The Dragons of Arbor
Chapter 12: Stone does not a fortress make

Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life

I jumped into the bowels of the fortress, River at my side, and from a dark corner, became momentarily busy jumping smooth little balls of deadly force from their container on Obsidian to their resting places in the dark nooks and crannies of the fortress. It oonly took a few minutes, thanks to my ability to see and feel the open spaces within the rock.

We moved to a high place, near the top of one tower, where we could see the walls of the fortress. For the first time we were able to confirm the layout and location, using the night vision our suits gave us. Wide, thick walls, a hundred feet high, carved from the raw stone of the mountains themselves, sitting atop the sheered flat top of one of them.

River spent a moment fixing each guard, each watchtower and every human Light signature we could detect into her/our mind. Fox' signature was noted, and we noted as well that he had a companion with him. Once we had everything in place, we made our first move. I jumped into Foxfoot Aligos' bedroom, leaving River where she was, for now.

I scanned the room for problems, and found none. The only problem would probably be the companion, whose Light signature told me she had Talent. To what degree, we might soon know. I took a seat in the chair by the desk under the window and brought all the glow stones in the room to full brightness with a thought. I told the suit to uncover my head and sat, smiling.

Fox was up and out of bed in a heartbeat, and his sword was in his hand. The woman with him was lovely, the falling bed covers revealed, but the reddish glow that suddenly bloomed from her skin confirmed to me that she was not just a pleasant bed warmer.

"Long time no see, Fox." I said.

"Sid? Spirits! Is that you?"

"Well, the outfit is new, but I haven't changed that much, have I?"

"To hear tell it, you have changed a great deal from when I knew you at the Academy, Sid."

"Not as much as you might think, Actually. Most of what you might have heard of were already a part of me, even at the Academy. They were just parts of me that I had put aside for a time."

"Nice suit, by the way." He said.

"There's a tale to be told about that too." I said. "One you might get to hear me tell, if things don't go horribly wrong."

"You understand that the people I represent, and who have placed me in this position believe the only way to stop you is to kill you don't you?" He said.

"I do, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. Shouldn't you be introducing me to your companion?"

"Of course, forgive my bad manners. Obsidian McKesson, this is Wintersun, my intended. Wintersun, my love, this is my old friend Obsidian."

"Intended! Well congratulations." I said.

"Thank you. Call me Win." She said. "I understand that congratulations are in order for you as well."

River had finished her work while I had Fox' attention, and she had joined us, but was still invisible.

<Go ahead and show yourself.> I sent.

She did, and Fox and Win's reaction was priceless, if brief.

"Fox, Win, this in my wife River. River, this is Foxfoot Aligos and his intended, Wintersun."

"A pleasure to meet you at last Fox." River said. "I've heard a lot abut you. Congratulations to you both, by the way. I highly recommend having the vows spoken for you."

"Report." I said. River knew as well as I did that I already knew what she had to say, and that it was for effect.

"Everyone in the towers and along the walls has been removed." She said. "I've taken care of everyone in the guard houses as well."

"Before you get too excited Fox," I said. "They're all perfectly fine. We had some trouble adjusting to the attacks you sent against us at first. We weren't prepared to use everything available to us, and because of that, some people died."

There was a long moment of silence then.

"I'm sorry about Elm. He was a good man, and a friend." I said.

"He was serving a cause he believed in. As I do. As everyone here does." Fox said.

"A cause that says my wife and I must die, because you believe we will bring about the end of Magic, isn't that true?"

"Of course. There are no delusions here. You don't deny you are sent by the Shar to fulfill their prophecy and return the Dragons to Arbor?"

"So we were sent, and so the Shar have had their influence on what we are about, but their say is not the whole of it. Other voices have spoken, and have had their say, but you are operating from a flawed assumption."

"Are you going to try to convince me that your actions will not lead to the death of Magic?"

"Yes. Whether you can be convinced of it though, remains to be determined." I said. "Let me lay it out for you then. The high Wizard, the Wizard's Council and the Wizard's Guild have spent considerable time and energy investigating this and agree that even in the worst possible scenario, no Wizard, Ur, Brude nor any Talented or Transformed human would lose the magic they possess or be affected by this in any way. This is their opinion, and I share it, but even beyond that, I believe that even were the Dragons to return, Magic on Arbor would be unaffected, because the Magic of Arbor already existed when the Dragons arrived."

"What proof can you offer for that belief?" Fox asked.

"You know about the Shar mind?" I asked.

"I know it is said that they have a collective consciousness." Win said.

"It is more than that, they share, collectively, all the memories of the Shar, from their beginning to today. Every event, experience and memory is held, collectively and forever, by the Shar mind." River said.

"Interesting, but beside the point." Fox said.

"No, it is very much to the point, because the Shar remember the arrival of the Dragons on Arbor, just as they remember their leaving."

"This tells you the Shar had magic before the dragons?"

"Yes, and more. The Shar have ancient wards, carved into equally ancient stone, designed to keep the Ur at bay. What need for wards against the Ur if they could not have existed before the Dragons came?" River added.

"We have had other input, but we're not at liberty to reveal the source at this time." I added.

"This is interesting information, Sid. It really is." Fox said. "I am tempted to take you at your word, just for the sake of our friendship, but There are other considerations."

"Your father is a major financier, I know this. You are here to guard his interests, more than anything else." I said.

"You are well informed." Fox said, with some anger evident in his voice.

<I am better informed than you could possibly imagine, Fox.> I sent into his mind.

"Get out of my head!" He screamed. Scrambling back, away from me.

"I'm not in your head, Fox. I could be, I have been. I have been in your father's thoughts, and he never knew I was there."

"Whether you believe me or not, whether you will remain loyal to your father or not. Perhaps I can at least convince you that it is fruitless to oppose me in this?"

"That would seem difficult, despite your ability to come to me here, I have a lot of resources at my disposal." Fox said.

Fox and Win had been dressing themselves during all this, and with their clothes on, I made my next play.

"Will you take my word that I mean you no direct harm at this time, and walk out onto the balcony with me?"

"Of course." Fox replied. The four of us walked out into the night air.

"I need to convince you that no matter what resources you bring, even if it were all the resources of Arbor, I can bring more." I said. Fox began to shake his head. "I know that seems to make no sense now, but here is a small sample of my meaning."

As soon as the words had registered in his ears, I triggered one of the bombs I had planted. The tower at the far corner of the fortress exploded in a blinding flash. When their eyes had again adjusted to the night, they could see the tower lay in ruins.

"A cleverly planted explosive and a confederate in waiting is not much of a convincing argument." Fox said.

"I didn't doubt you would say that." I answered. "It is far more serious than it seems."

With that, I triggered all the explosives, and blew every tower and most of the surrounding walls to shards.

"I hope you were telling the truth about the men no longer being on those walls." Fox said in the quiet that followed. He turned and walked back into the bedroom, and we all followed.

"We spoke true." River said. "Right now they are standing in the middle of the road to Beletara, near the place where the troops you had set are waiting. They are greatly confused."

"Win?" Fox said, turning to his intended.

"He comes." She replied.

"Win is not just my intended, she is also the sister of my greatest ally and most powerful weapon against you, Sid." Fox said, stepping back, away from us. "The reports I have received of your power don't suggest you will be a match for him."

"Uh oh." River said. I followed her senses and saw it with my Wizard sight, a glowing orb of power was moving towards us, and at a very high speed. That was all she managed before the door to the room smoked briefly and then burst into flames. A bright, bright, light came through the cracks, and an intense heat came with it.

"She's protecting him." River said. I looked, and sure enough, Win had a hand on Fox and he too now had the reddish cast to his features. Even their clothing had it now.

A man-shaped figure strode through the burning door then, and the only reason I could see the shape was because I wasn't looking with my eyes.

"Flare!" These are our enemies!" Win called. A wave of light and heat came at me then and I was instantly in my obsidian form. I pulled power from the surrounding stone and I grew, towering above him. I reached down to strike with a massive stone fist, and heard a grunting sound of pain, but at the same time, my form began to melt and flow as the heat began to turn my solid stone to a lava flow.

Lava was a form of rock, so I felt I could handle it, but I was draining into the widening pool of lava that was not me – the rock around me that was going molten as I was. I didn't know if I could handle that unwilling merge into other rock!

I pulled more rock from out of myself, and then felt for the core of the rock beneath me and pulled it out as well. I dove into the rock and drew it up, flowing like the lava I had threatened to become, and wrapped that core of stone around the figure called Flare. I drowned him in a globe of hard rock. An instant later I buried that globe of rock in the solid rock twenty feet below the lowest level of the fortress.

I pulled myself back up out of the rock and stone, and stood again on the hard floor of the bedroom. With a moment to draw breath, and a space in which to collect my thoughts, I had time to dive back down, this time mentally, and fall into the thoughts of my foe. I managed to stay there for only a minute. Flare was aware of my presence in his mind, and was slowly overwhelming me with the heat and light and depth of the Sun, and in the end I had to flee, but not without having the prize I sought.

My opponent rose, his bright, burning body too bright to look at. He rose from the depths almost as fast as my mind did. I returned to the bedroom and to myself, and knew I only had the briefest instant to prepare.

<River. Be ready.> I sent. As I did, I brought the rock up from the courtyard outside the balcony window, and gave Fox and Win a wide expanse of level stone on which to separate themselves from us.

In the time it took me to do that, Flare was back, and the heat and light with him. A wave of light flared against my stony side, and even as my stone skin began to soften and run, I drew power again, from the source inside myself this time, and suddenly, I was Dragonstone.

"You cannot melt Dragonstone." I said. "It will not burn, nor melt or flow."

"Be careful Flare!" The retreating Win called. "He will try to kill you!"

"No, I won't actually." I answered. "He is the reason we are here."

"Earth and Sea will raise them. the Sun and the Sky will aid them. the Dragons will return, born by the wind."

River spoke the words. She reappeared, standing beside me in her deep sea form. She was in her icy deep mode, and as quickly as the front surface of her boiled away into steam, the faster she reformed her icy self. It was a momentary stalemate

"The prophesy calls us." I said. "Obsidian, the earth, River the sea, and Flare, the sun. We still must find the sky, and then we will know what to do."

The glowing orb that was Flare, Sun of Arbor dimmed and died, and in front of us stood a thin, pale-skinned man, only a few years older than either of us. A very naked man. Win threw him a spread from the bed.

"You are the ones I've been waiting for?" He said in a voice full of pain. "The people I'm supposed to kill are the people I've been waiting for?"

"Flare? What are you talking about?" Win cried.

"My purpose." He said. "The reason I've been waiting all these years, letting you shelter me from the world and the world from me. I've known since I was first a teen that the power I held was too great, too complete, too dangerous to be just another Transformation."

"Flare, you can't be serious. You know what we've discussed, why we oppose this. How can you choose to be a part of it?"

"I was born a part of it." Flare said. "The moment Pewter Spaldron died, Transformed into a piece of the Sun; the moment Flare was born in Pewter's place, I was a part of it. In my dreams I was part of it. In my thoughts and in the passing of every moment between now and this moment, I was a part of it, even those times when I didn't know, it was there."

"And there is another." I added. "Our next task will be to find the sky."

"Whether Flare joins you or not, I will have to continue working against you." Fox said. "Will you kill another friend?"

"I didn't kill Elm." I said. "It wasn't even Trunk. It was his intended, who did it to save the life of the man she loved."

"We do this out of love for Arbor." River added. "You can choose to disbelieve that, but still, it is true."

"That is easy to say and hard to prove." Fox said. "Everyone must chose Arbor, but everyone defines it as the will."

"That is a presumption we can change for you." I said. "River, lets get the rest of the people in the fortress safely out of here."

It took us only a moment to find the remaining Light signatures still within what was left of the fortress and the immediate vicinity. As quickly as we could we jumped them to the distant spot on the road to Belatara, and they were among their fellows.

I turned to Flare and showed him my thoughts. What I had planned.

"Can you do that?" I asked.

"Easily." He answered. "I will be glad to do what I can to keep my sister alive. I see that killing is not your goal, with her or anyone else. Go. I will take care of things here and wait for your return."

One thing remained to be done on Arbor. Arbor was the only place it could properly be done. I spoke the words without hesitation or flaw.

The blessings of the Spirits on you.

Their hand guides yours. Their eyes are upon the path ahead and shine their light upon the true path that is yours. Give your hearts to each other and let the Spirits wrap yours in their comfort through all the years ahead.

Love is a blessing and a gift.

Love is given to us by the Spirits and it is our task to share it in turn with our family and our friends and our mates. Honor this gift every day of your life by sharing it.

We spoke the words before we left, on a remote, empty beach in River's memory. That nameless beach she had first come to after leaving the Imhur. The rising sun behind them, Fox and Win heard the vows spoken for them. River placed their hands together one atop the other.

"Foxfoot and Wintersun, We join you now, but you are already one. Fox and Win Aligos are one, and the Spirits rejoice! Let all on Arbor rejoice with them, and let none deny what the Spirits have declared."

As they kissed, we jumped to Archipelago, and to another sun, this one setting.

"Welcome to Archipelago." I said. These are often called the honeymoon Isles."

"Win, you will find it very difficult to reach the Magic here. This is not Arbor, and the Magic is much, much harder to touch when you are away from it."

"This is just a trick." Fox said. "You've blocked the Magic somehow."

"Well, I have seen that done." I said, "While there are places I could take you that would convince you otherwise, we are not here to convince you. We are here to start you on your honeymoon."

We had been walking up the boardwalk from this beach to the resort. Great Uncle Ambrose and Great Aunt Ia met us at the door.

"Welcome to Archipelago." They said.

"Thank you Uncle Ambrose, Aunt Ia." I said. "This is my wife River."

I stopped there to let them react to the news, and greet River as I knew they would on hearing the news.

"You remind me of Ginny McKesson in that outfit." Ia said.

"You have married a beauty to rival the legendary Ginny McKesson." Ambrose said to me with a laugh.

"Please allow me also to introduce you to Foxfoot and Wintersun Aligos." I said. "They are newlyweds, having been married now for all of ten minutes or so."

"Always a pleasure to meet friends of Mat's." Ia said.

"Sid, these days Aunt Ia." I reminded her.

"Oh, that's right. I'm sorry, but we don't have this Transformation business on any of the other facets. Arbor is a pretty unique place."

"We were once friends, Sid and I." Fox said. "More recently we have been enemies. You are a part of Sid's showing me that he is able to bring far more to the conflict than I, and I am starting to believe that he was telling the truth about that."

"Just remember Fox, these are family, and part of that means they have access to most of those same resources I was speaking of."

<Send them a thought.> I sent to Aunt Ia.

<We McKesson's, whether by blood or marriage, are a formidable lot.>

Fox reacted in the same way he had back at the fortress. The thought of someone being in his mind was definitely something he had trouble with.

"We want to leave the newlyweds in your care, and give them a honeymoon worth remembering, on us." I said. "Take Fox fishing. Teach them to sail."

"How long will you keep us here?" Win asked.

"As long as it takes us to secure our safety." I said. "Whether that means after we have accomplished our goal, or somewhere before that, I cannot say."

"Take care of Flare. He has been sheltered most of his life." She asked.

"We will." River said. "Enjoy your time here. This is a pretty good alternative to what might have had to happen, us being sworn enemies and all."

I had not had much practice with levitation, and Sid had barely more practice than I, but he had thrown himself into the full acceptance of that side of himself, and now had pulled a mastery of these things from somewhere. Probably from his Grandpa Dave.

He brought us back to Arbor, to a point high above the spot where Fox' fortress had previously stood. Where a fortress and a mountain had once stood, there was now a sea of lava, and a bright ball, bright as the sun at its center.

<Flare!> We sent.

<Coming!> He sent back.

"He learned that quick!" I said.

"He has shared our mind, during that brief merge earlier." Sid said. "I think he has been preparing for this for some time, and was ready for that moment. Far more ready than we were when we first fell into this thread of events."

"Did you leave my sister well and happy?" Flare called from near us. He was not the bright ball of blinding light he had been, but a glowing outline of a man, bright, but not so bright we couldn't look at him directly.

"We left her happier than Fox, but she will soon get his mind moving in the right direction." I said. "They are on their honeymoon now. She will be quick to remind them of that."

"If you can't kill your enemies, marry them off. I like that!" Flare said with a laugh.

"I like this form much better than the other one." Sid said.

"An intermediary form. I've seen you have at least one as well."

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