Author's Note: This tale semi-links to a few tagged 'Everway' subs on Strolen, but the goal is to provide enough hints that the work stands alone.

Everyone knows the tale of The Awakening. Even four decades later there are still those who remember that day. There are still many who watched as the sun vanished and the sky grew dark under a canopy of incomprehensibly large wings. There are those who recall remember with a shudder of dread the sound of the roar which shook the world. There are those who recall sifting through the rubble of lives left shattered that day. Whole cities reduced to ruin, flattened.

While the city of Dragon's Wake - once known as Blue Dream - was hardest struck by tragedy that day, no corner of the world was left untouched as the Dragon awoke. But even today scholars and sorcerers debate: what roused the Dragon from its ages-long slumber? Some believe there is no reason. The Dragon slept... and then woke. As simple as that. One might as well ask why we wake each morning. We simply do, and so did the Dragon. Nothing more.

But... there is more.

The Dragon did not awaken. The Dragon was awakened. Today, decades later, there remain a few souls scattered about the realms who know the truth. Of these, one knows it best of all...

Some around the world know just enough to point the way. If one knew where to ask, and had just the right reasons for asking, one might journey to the island realm Far Wind. Located almost as far from Dragon's Wake as it is possible to go without finding oneself returning to that once-great city, one will traverse a continent and an ocean to find the lonely island nation. It is a large island, covered in forests and fields, dotted with cities and towns, and dominated in the center by Fire Mountain.
On arriving at one of Far Wind's ports, one will travel inland, towards the capital city of New Autumn Harvest. Built in the foothills of Fire Mountain, one will notice that even a world away from the Awakening, the city is... new. Autumn Harvest was utterly destroyed the day the Dragon woke, but the people rebuilt atop the ruins of the old city. New Autumn Harvest is a reflection of its people: sturdy, resilient, forward-looking. From many places within the city, one can see the up mountain, to the ruins of the old palace.
Perhaps a half-day's ride from the capitol, atop a forested hill which is not quite a mountain, there lives an old woman named Gentle Three. Gentle Three lives alone, in a lovely rustic cottage which is too large for her. She spends her days tending her garden, or writing her thoughts down in a journal. Sometimes, she will gaze from her window, to the ruins of the old palace visible in the distance. A sadness overtakes her when she does. Other times, she may gaze toward the city. She will smile at these times. If a visitor to her home happens to catch her gazing and wonder why, she'll simply say she misses the architecture of the old palace, but admires that of the new city.
Gentle Three will courteously receive any visitor who is polite and respectful. She is a fine host, and will offer tea and cakes, and fresh jam. She will sit, and discuss current events, watching her guests with a shrewd eye as they converse. Then, if her visitors ask, and if they convince her of the need,Gentle Three will share a tale. She will share the secret tale of the old Queen of Far Wind; a tale of loss, tragedy, and heartbreak, of greed and desire, and ultimately, of redemption. A tale which begins long before The Awakening...

Many years ago, the King of Far Wind heard a prophecy: his line would end, and the one to end it would do so with a whispered name. The King, seeking to thwart the prophecy, decided none would know the names of his children save himself and their mother. He named his children in secret, giving them titles to use instead, and forbid on pain of death their names to be used in public.

The King's first son was given the title The Even Hand, and he would inherit the nation of Far Cry after his father. But the King worried. The prophecy might not mean the name of his line, but another. so the King forged a strange alliance with a neighbor across the sea. Over many months of negotiations, the King arranged a marriage with an as-yet-unborn princess, extracting promises the daughter would likewise be named in secret, her name never to be spoken aloud. The bargain was sealed with a trade agreement very favorable to the other nation - a coastal land called Craggy Shores.

And so it came to pass that The Even Hand of Far Wind was promised to The Dove of Craggy Shores. The King died several years later, leaving his son on the throne. He died contented, knowing he had secured his line.

But he hadn't, really.

A few years later, The Dove of Craggy Shores sailed to Far Wind, there to marry her betrothed. She was received with the style due one of her position, but forced by custom to remain in the port city of Calm Reef for a time. She stayed in luxurious estates with her retinue of guards, but frequently traveled about the city, exploring its shops and meeting the people who would become her subjects. She impressed those she met with her beauty, her kindness, and her ready smile. But she impressed none so much as Jaunty Threecap.

A stranger to Far Wind, Jaunty Threecap was a wanderer, a professional traveler who had not spent more than a month in one place since leaving home as a boy many winters earlier. Named for his unfailingly cheery disposition as well as his habit of wearing three hats, Jaunty was wandering the markets of Calm Reef, looking for opportunities to make a bit of coin, when he was struck by a vision.

It was no supernatural thing, this vision. It was a woman, young, fair of face and form, whose smile could only gladden a heart so graced. It was The Dove, and Jaunty fell instantly and eternally in love with her. Now, to be fair, this was hardly the first time Jaunty had fallen instantly and eternally in love. However, it would without doubt be the last.

Knowing nothing more of her than her inspiring beauty, Jaunty approached The Dove, and made a gift to her of a flower. The moment was made perhaps a bit less romantic than intended when the lady's guards mistook his intentions and dragged him away to soundly beat him. But The Dove received the flower with all appreciation due the purity of such intent, and offered Jaunty her smile as he was hauled away.

Never one to be deterred by a little thing such as a beating and being arrested for theft - Jaunty had intended to pay for the flower - Jaunty resolved to try again. This time, employing stealth, he stole onto the estate where The Dove resided. He made his way to her room disguised as a scullery maid. There, he revealed himself and declared his undying love. Her delighted smile on seeing Jaunty dressed as a maid, and on hearing his heartfelt declarations, made all of the pain worth it. Even the pain of being thrown from a second story window by the guard who chanced to see him without his wig paled in comparison to his joy on seeing her smile.

Never one to be deterred by a little thing such as defenestration, Jaunty returned the next night, this time disguised as one of The Dove's guards. He found himself near her for long enough to exchange words. She was flattered by his attention, amused by his persistence, and impressed by his ability to take a beating and be thrown from a window, only to return again. But Jaunty saw she was sad, and asked why.

The lady gave answer, and Jaunty at last learned who she was: The Dove, the King's betrothed. She was not happy with the match, the source of her sadness. The Even Hand was by all account a good man and a good King, and the marriage would strengthen an alliance. But The Dove did not love him. She had not even met him yet. Still, she was determined to do her duty.

Jaunty's heart broke at her words. Soon after, a few of Jaunty's ribs broke as well. The guard whose uniform he stole came seeking it. But before Jaunty could be dragged away again, The Dove promised to meet him the next night. Jaunty laughed as the guards beat him and tossed him into the street.

The next night, and every night thereafter for the next month, The Dove stole away to meet Jaunty. Jaunty thrilled in time spent in secret with his Dove, as he'd call her. They talked and shared wine and secrets and dreams. He would bring her gifts, tokens of his affection, which she would keep in secret. He would tell her in flowery words how he felt. The Dove found herself taken with this man, and began to return his feelings.

On their final night together, the Dove gave Jaunty three gifts. Even knowing she would go to do her duty the next morning, she gave Jaunty her love, her body, and her name. This last she whispered into his ear as they made love. Though she would leave the next morning, Jaunty would cherish her gifts for the rest of his days. The same gifts would ultimately doom The Dove, even as she recalled them with fondness in private moments later in life.

The next day, The Dove departed for the capital, and there she met and wed The Even Hand, becoming his queen. Knowing he would never see her again, Jaunty Threecap nonetheless settled in Calm Reef, just to be close to her. He would live out his days in solitary devotion, his adventures done. He took up a quiet trade, and lived on his memories of his Dove. Jaunty never looked to the horizon again, having known the greatest adventure of all: True Love.

Such a tale from the old woman might seem a digression, but it is not.

Nine months after she wed The Even Hand, The Dove gave birth to a daughter. Her father bestowed upon her the title of The Gift, while her mother bestowed her name. The Even Hand commanded the name be kept secret. His father had impressed upon him the necessity of thwarting the prophecy, and The Even Hand was determined that he would not see his line end.

Of course, it already had.

As The Gift grew, there were... signs. She was perhaps a shade darker than her mother or father. Her hair was blonde instead of the dark hair more common in these parts. She was longer of limb than most. And most troubling, she showed from an early age the spark of magic, something which had long been absent in the line of her parents.

The Even Hand began to wonder about his precious child and his devoted wife - for in truth while The Dove did not love her husband, she did remain as devoted as her heart would permit. As his suspicions grew, so did his temper. As doubts plagued his spirit, his rule began to falter, his edicts began to fail to live up to the promise of his title. The people began to worry for the once-kind King. The Dove began to fear her husband.

Late one night in her thirteenth year, the Gift was awakened by her mother. The child was frightened, for her mother had burst into her sleeping chamber, crying, and shaking with fear. The Dove quickly took up her daughter and hid in a closet. Clutching her daughter to her breast, the Dove began to tell her frightened child the truth. In fast, hushed words, she told the girl of youthful indiscretion, true love, and the child's true father.

Before The Gift could begin to absorb this news, the king burst into her sleeping chamber in a drunken rage, recklessly waving about his family blade. He howled and shouted incoherently, causing the frightened child to cry out. Though her mother tried to stifle the sound, her father heard. He tore open the door to the closet and ran his wife through with his sword. The blade entered her back and emerged from her breast, cutting the cheek of the child she still held. The child reacted in horror and rage of her own. She screamed, and as she did the magic in her blood took hold. A mighty wind carried her father out of the window, to his death on the rocks below.

To all but the child, the King had murdered his wife and then jumped to his death. The Bereft - as she would be called from that night - was crowned queen of Far Wind the very next day. Only she knew the truths; that she had killed the King, and that she was not of his blood. The prophecy had come to pass. The line of the old King was dead.

People came from all over to offer condolences and wish the new Queen well. The Bereft received them with all the propriety such occasion demanded. She acted the part of the mourning daughter. But inside, she was empty. The instant which had shattered her world had also shattered her heart, and she no longer felt anything.

Still, The Bereft knew she was too young to rule properly. She also knew she must learn to control the magic within her. The new Queen appointed her mother's most trusted advisor as her regent, then left her home to seek training. Taking only a small honor guard, the Bereft traveled across the world, to the great city of Blue Dream. Known across the world as a center of learning and study, Blue Dream held the greatest hope for the Bereft to find proper tutelage for her talents. She did, though not in the manner she hoped.

While walking the city's vast markets, the young queen spied an interesting sight. A man, tall, his skin much darker than hers, wearing a sleeveless silken robe open to the waist. The Bereft found herself staring, not at the man, but at the iridescent blue markings which decorated his arms and face. They almost seemed to move, and she could not look away. The young queen watched the man as he shopped, slipping from her guards, illicitly following him for a time as he walked among the stalls and spoke with the merchants.

Perhaps he sensed her gaze. Perhaps he was turning at a noise. However it happened, the man suddenly turned to face the Bereft. She saw in a quick glimpse that his markings extended to his torso. But then, she met his gaze. She felt a sudden wash of power, and in that instant she Recognized the man who would become her master. The man, a sorcerer, knew as well he had just met his pupil. Recognition is a rare phenomenon, wherein one with talent feels an instant kinship with another.

The sorcerer approached the young queen, and the two exchanged words. The Bereft supplied the name she had adopted for her journey. Breath of Winter told the sorcerer a sad tale, one similar in many respects to the truth. The man - Sandshadow of Sapphirine - listened, and then told his new pupil they would travel south. There, his order would honor the ancient right of Recognition, and Breath of Winter would immediately be offered the markings of an apprentice in the Order Sapphirine. The Bereft agreed, and was delighted to learn of his school, Wind and Sand. Though her realm was not desert, its winds were well known, and the wind had once proven her ally already.

South the pair went, and as promised Breath of Winter was received by the Order Sapphirine. With an empty heart, The Bereft used her assumed name to pledge herself to the Desert Realms and to the Order Sapphirine. Over the next seven years, Sandshadow taught his pupil the secrets of Wind and Sand, and she permitted herself to be marked according to her progress. The Bereft grew into a fine woman, pleasing to the eye despite the scar on her cheek. She became aware Sandshadow was developing feelings for his pupil. But her own heart was still empty. The young woman exploited her master's feelings, using them to gain more favor and hasten her schooling.

When she had learned all she could, the queen left her master. She did so without warning, abandoning him and the land she was supposed to have adopted. She had never told him her true identity, and when she left it was as if she had never been, save for the hole she left in her master's heart.

And so, seven years after leaving, The Bereft arrived at the palace of Far Wind. She had grown into a beautiful woman, standing tall and straight, wearing a fine dress, her hair carefully arranged. Though the blue markings on her face and arms were a source of discomfort and suspicion to many, The Bereft swept inside gracefully. She entered the audience chamber and confronted the regent, telling him she had returned to assume her throne. In seven years under the regent's leadership, the realm has prospered. The regent had won the respect of the people. He told his queen he was reluctant to step down, but offered to marry her, and to permit her to rule by his side.

The Bereft killed her regent with a simple gesture.

As the regent fell from the throne, his neck broken, his head facing behind, the queen ascended, took her place, and addressed her court. So began the reign of The Scribe, Queen of Far Wind.

Gentle Three will pause here. The tale is but half-told, and refreshments are needed. She will put off their questions, and bustle into the kitchen, where she will prepare more tea and some light lunch to tide everyone. After some tea, or juice, and some fresh fruit and tea cakes, she will continue her tale.

Despite its inauspicious beginning, the reign of The Scribe was benign at first. Trade continued with other realms. People paid their taxes which continued to be reasonable. The military patrolled the waters around the island. But over the years which followed, the realm of Far Wind became increasingly isolated. Concerned with her own power and learning, the Scribe neglected the ties of diplomacy. Trade agreements faltered, and fell away. Diplomatic missions were ignored, state visits were cancelled, then simply not scheduled. Even the realm of her mother's birth, where her uncle ruled in good stead, was ignored while The Scribe pored over tomes and texts, seeking only to further her own personal power.

One day, The Scribe looked into a mirror and was startled to see she was growing old. Twenty five years had passed, and she had grown in knowledge and power immensely. But the realization struck her. This was no mere vanity - at least not for something so mundane as her appearance. No, The Scribe was concerned because for all her power, she realized she would die, and in the end her power would mean nothing.

The Scribe spent many days in a state of sadness. Then she recalled something her old master had told her. This was one of those secrets he should not have told her, but did during an evening of intimate talk. He had told her of the Ivory Order. Five ageless, deathless men and women who see to the lasting security of the five orders. If immortality were possible for them, then why not her?

The Scribe began to study, paying huge sums to anyone who could further her research with a tome or scroll or other text. Royal coffers began to empty, and taxes were raised to replenish them. Then the military was cut. Tariffs on outside trade supplied a bit of extra revenue, until the traders stopped coming. Soon the land was approaching crisis. But The Scribe cared not at all. For even as the people grew restless and bitter, the Scribe became excited. She had discovered the secret.

Here, Gentle Three grows quiet. She speaks more softly, and only alludes to the means used by The Scribe to gain this knowledge. An astute observer may see the old woman's hands shake. But she resolutely continues her tale.

The Scribe learned that the blood of a Dragon, used as a key element in a powerful ritual, would furnish the immortality she sought. But there was a wrinkle in her plans. While the world certainly does not lack for creatures men call ‘dragons,' The Scribe learned than only the blood of a True Dragon would suffice. How the Order Ivory came about this, the Scribe was unable to learn.

She did not give up. A year of combing every piece of lore she could find finally brought her the answer. A young woman came to the Scribe's attention. She was alone, and scared, and pregnant, and possessed of a streak of green scales up her spine. She possessed the blood of a true dragon (in a manner best left unspoken), and was outcast from her people because of it. The Scribe found this woman, and in the guise of a kindly woman, took pity on her, took her in, offered her care. The scared young woman, thoroughly taken in by the act, agreed after a time to give her child to the Scribe, who would take her in as her very own blood.

The young woman remained with the Scribe in her borrowed estate until she gave birth. The Scribe took the baby, and bid the young woman farewell. That young woman left, happy in the knowledge her child would not suffer the fate of an outcast. The Scribe immediately took her adopted child back to Far Wind. It is a testament to how low she had become, or perhaps how obsessed, that she thought nothing of the next steps in her plans.

The infant was marked, the Scribe accepting an identical mark. By its magic, their spirits became almost as one. To complete the joining required the sacrifice of the life of the infant, one the Scribe had not even bothered to name.

Gentle Three pauses again, to explain briefly this ritual was not the one employed by the Order Ivory, but one entirely of The Scribe's design.

The night of the sacrifice neared, but fate intervened. Well... not precisely fate. The Scribe's long search had not gone unnoticed. The Five Orders had learned of her identity and her plan. An agent was dispatched, his task to prevent the ritual at any cost. Only the Order Ivory knew the true danger the Scribe presented, and the life of an infant would be an acceptable price to pay to prevent that danger.

But the agent who came to prevent the ritual at any cost could not take the infant's life. Having stolen into the palace, he found his heart was not up to the grisly task. Instead, he took the babe in his arms and fled into the night.

The fury of the Scribe and her entire army screamed after the agent, and he led them a merry chase, to the port of Coral Bay, across the ocean, then south. He hoped to reach the Desert Lands, where his brethren could ensure the safety of the child, but The Scribe anticipated this. The brand she shared with the infant enabled her to easily track the babe, and she sent her forces - aided by favorable winds summoned by the sorceress - to cut off the agent's route to the Desert Realms. He turned east, toward Blue Dream, pursuit drawing ever nearer.

Late one night, after a month of almost constant fleeing, the Scribe's people nearly caught the agent. They wounded him greatly, and in his desperation he turned toward the legendary Tower of Dreams. He did not make it, but as he neared, he found a camp. The Agent stumbled into the camp of travellers seeking their own answers in the Tower, and collapsed, the babe in his arms. He held her up and begged them to take her to the Tower, to keep her safe. Then he died.

Two of the camp will be known to many listeners today, though back then they were not known. Lion Heart of Gift would one day kill the Obsidian Queen and place She Who Dreams on the Throne of Gift. Silver Blackhand of House Fox would be a very large part of that war, and after marry Lion and become Silver Heart. Together with their companions Soul of Flame and Wind Sword of House Blade, no babe could ask for more accomplished or stalwart protectors.

The four turned to face the arriving forces of The Scribe. Knowing nothing other than a dying man begged them to see the child safe, they confronted the soldiers. They refused to give up the child, and met force with force when the soldiers would not withdraw. The lone survivor among the soldiers was permitted to carry a message back to his queen: This Child is Protected.

Seeing the events swirling about this child, Lion named her Interesting Times. Caring little for the niceties of childcare, he nonetheless committed his life and his sword to her protection. Silver, a former constable in Blue Dream, known for the strange gifts bestowed by her Shadowhand, likewise vowed to keep the little girl safe. After the skirmish, they packed up their camp and rode the night to the Tower of Dreams.

Gentle Three will pause in her tale once more. Here, she will explain that precisely what transpired in the Tower of Dreams is not known. The Tower of Dreams, for centuries before the Awakening, was a place of mystery, where it was said those seeking answers might find them. But in all those centuries, none who entered the tower and emerged again would ever speak of what transpired within.

When the heroes emerged from the tower, they held the answers they sought. They knew the tale of The Scribe, and her link to the infant Interesting Times. They also learned why the fate of the entire sphere rested on preventing The Scribe from succeeding in her plan. When they finally emerged from the tower, the heroes were more determined than ever to protect the babe. Such is the nature of true heroes, that it never even occurred to them to use the grisly, surest method of preventing the Scribe from sacrificing the babe. In particular, Silver Blackhand vowed to see this child protected at any cost.

The heroes had also learned of the link to the Five Orders of the Ivory Towers, and they set out for the Desert Realms. After a long journey, they found themselves in Blessed Gathering, the central city of the Desert Realms. Built around the base of a large mesa, Blessed Gathering was a vast oasis in the desert, a place where water was plentiful, and irrigation to surrounding lands allowed farms to prosper. There, they asked among the people, until they were directed to approach the Mesa. After demonstrating the seriousness of their need, the four heroes were the first unmarked in the living memory of the city to be permitted to ascend the mesa.

Atop the mesa was Dragon's Reach. The city within a city was the true capital of the land, home to the Five Orders. The heroes were taken to see the Elder Council, twenty-five men and women chosen from the ranks of their orders to rule the land.

Again, exactly what words were said is not known, but the heroes were with the council for a full day and a night. When the council ended, three heroes emerged. Silver, having vowed to do whatever was required to protect the child, remained behind. She would be inducted into the Order Viridian, but given marks from each of the other four Orders to bolster her power. She would battle the Scribe.

A month later, Silver emerged from Dragon's Reach. She had taken on a fearsome countenance. Upon every inch of her arms, legs, front and face, she bore scales of green. Upon her back were etched wings of gold. On the lids of her eyes were blue irises. At the ends of her toes, and the fingers of her left hand, talons of violet. And at her throat, a pattern of red. Her right hand, the Shadowhand, remained unmarked, having rejected the ink of the master etchers.

Silver emerged in the nick of time. The Scribe, in her obsession, was raising an army to march on the Desert Realms. The heroes left one of their number behind to care for Interesting Times, while Lion Heart, Silver, and Soul of Flame made all haste for the north. Silver's golden wings bore her aloft, while Lion Heart's gift of Michael's Wings carried him. Soul of Flame moved with the speed of hungry fire. Needing neither horses nor ships, the three sped to Far Wind.

The three attempted to approach the capital peacefully, but the Scribe ordered them killed. The heroes tore a bloody path through all who would stand in their way, until they found themselves in the courtyard of the palace. Lion Heart and Soul of Flame held off the army as The Scribe emerged to do battle with Silver.

Once more, Gentle Three will break of her tale, now with a laugh. Her laugh is soft, carrying a bitter humor and no small amount of irony. She will shake her head, and stand, and move to the window. She will gaze toward the mountain, toward the ruins of the old Palace.
'Had I only known,' Gentle Three says softly. Then she will shake her head and resume her tale.

The Scribe's magics had grown very powerful. Her years of study and practice, bolstered by her Sapphirine markings and the link she shared with the dragon-blooded infant, made her magic immeasurably potent. Silver, drawing on the magics of all five of the Orders of the Ivory Tower and her own Shadowhand, matched the Scribe attack for attack. As her companions held back the armies of the Scribe, Silver lashed out with blow after blow, which the Scribe intercepted with her magic. The courtyard shook as the two battled.

It was Lion Heart who first noticed. The mighty blows and magics of the Scribe and Silver did indeed shake the ground and walls. But... in those quiet fractional moments between their blows... the ground still shook. Lion Heart could spare little attention as he and his friend Soul of Flame held the palace gates, but he grew concerned.

The battle reached its most frenzied moment. Power peeled off the Scribe in waves, tearing the cobblestones from the courtyard, scouring the walls. The stone of the palace cracked under Silver's redirected attacks. The shaking became constant. Then, from one moment to the next, everything changed.

Lion Heart paused, sword raised to strike, as an enemy soldier faltered in his attack, his face suddenly twisted in surprise and terror as he looked past and up, at the mountain. Lion Heart turned to look as the soldier dropped his sword and shield, and turned to flee. He looked up... and realized too late the end was at hand.

The mountain upon which the palace was built was erupting.

As he watched the top of the mountain explode, Silver and the Scribe both screamed, mighty bellows of agony. Their battle stopped as both fell to the ground, writhing in agony, their screams even louder than the erupting mountain above. A blue, smokey mist formed around the Scribe. Another mist, mostly green, but with some gold and flecks of blue, red, and violet, swirled around Silver. It lasted nearly a minute, then both stopped screaming. The mists dissipated as they sagged, unconscious, to the ground. The markings of their Orders had vanished.

Lion grabbed Silver and leapt from the courtyard, his gift of Michael's Wings carrying him from the palace as lava began to pour down. Soul of Flame prepared to leave, but then hesitated. She doubled back as swept up Scribe in her arms as lava poured into the courtyard. Not bothered by the heat, Soul of Flame sped away, running atop the lava flow until she reached safety.

Safely away from the eruption, the pair watched from a distant hilltop. Molten lava poured over the palace as the world continued to shake. The nearby city would be safe from the lava, but the quakes were tearing down buildings. And two women lay unconscious through it all. When it finally stopped, the city was a shambles, the palace all but gone.

The very thing Lion Heart and his companions had been meant to prevent, they had helped to cause.

Gentle Three turns back from the windows now, to face her guests. Tears streak her old, lined face at the memories, and she speaks.

'When I awoke, Lion Heart and his companions had left me, on this very hilltop. I rose, and cast about, looking at the devastation I had been the cause of. I knew that in other parts of the world the tale would be the same. I knew, because in those moments of agony as the power was ripped from my soul, I shared the awareness of the thing I had awoken. I fell to my knees and I wept. I wept, not for what I had lost. I wept, because with that loss, I finally found my heart. Feelings long dead welled up inside me, and the realization of the horrors I had wrought, and those I had intended, shattered my soul.'

She shakes her head. 'I take solace only in this: The Dragon bore us no ill-will. The devastation we witnessed was merely the beast waking from an unimaginably long slumber. The power which had stung it awake had been stripped from my soul, as a man might wave away a passing fly.

'I left the hill and made for the city. There, I lent what little aid I could. My general had survived, and led efforts to rescue survivors and see to the safety of the people. When our shores were attacked by other nations seeing opportunity in the tragedy, he led the defense and secured our nation. And when it was all finished, I named him King of Far Wind, and I left the city. He rules there to this day, and his son will rule when he is gone, good men both.'

The old woman Gentle Three shambles away from the window, looking so much older now than when she began her tale. A tired, guilt-ridden woman faces her guests.

'And this is my tale, the tale of a foolish woman who, fearing her own mortality, wrought unimaginable horror on the land.' She sits heavily in her chair.

'Of the heroes, I know little more. They rendered what aid they could before leaving these shores, never to return. Silver, younger than I, stronger, recovered more easily. I imagine she sometimes looks back and wonders if she might have done something different. But she only looks back on mistakes made by a good heart; I look back on evil caused by one with no heart.'

So saying, Gentle Three rises once more, and begins to clear away the remains of the tea.

The End

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