Say your goodbyes.
Written May-June 2022
The weak winter sunlight was waning, but still the pen scratched away at paper under the glow of a floating crystal. Notes about the day’s events, experiments with enchantments, and thoughts on further possibilities to try were immutably inked.
A knock at the door interrupted the writer’s thoughts. “There’s someone at the door for you, madam.”
Lucile realised now that she had earlier heard hooves clip-clopping on the cobbles outside. “Who would visit at this hour?”
“He introduced himself as Kamon Cordwainer, a wandering storyteller. He said he had something for you from an ‘Irikshan’.”
“From Irikshan?!” she stood up with a start, chair sliding along the carpet, “I’ll be right there.” Lucile hurried to the mirror to ensure she wasn’t a complete mess. She then disabled the glow enchantment on her crystal and stuck it into a small pouch, which she hung over her shoulder before exiting her room. “Thanks Kiran,” she said to the man standing in the passage.
“You are welcome, madam.”
They walked to the stairwell, where they found Jarod waiting. “What’s happening?”
“Some man is here claiming to have something from Irikshan,” Lucile answered.
“May I come with you?”
Together, the three walked down the stairs and into the entry hall. Kiran pulled open the door, and the sight of a travel-weary man greeted Lucile. Behind him, the stable boy tended to the horse.
“Good evening, Miss Manghka,” he bowed. “Most know me as Kamon Cordwainer, a wandering storyteller. You may, however, call me-”
“You’ve got something from Irikshan?”
“Ah, yes.” The man slipped a backpack off his shoulders. He pulled out an oversized book. As Kiran brought a lantern closer, she realised that she recognised it.
“That’s his journal…”
“Yes, and I-”
“How did you get it? He barely ever let it out of his sight. Did you steal it?”
“Technically, yes, I did steal it, but I can explain. If we can just sit down-”
“I’m not letting a thief into my home!” Lucile lashed out mentally, shoving the book and the man in opposite directions. While the book did fly towards her, the man did not move. In her surprise, she barely managed to catch the book, but once she did she attempted to shove the man away again, but only found him to be guarding his body from her interference. She prodded at his mind and could not find any cracks in his armour. “Just who are you?”
“Will you listen to my answer this time?”
“I travel under the pseudonym Kamon Cordwainer, but my given name is James Armstrong. You won’t remember, but I accompanied you on your travels with Irikshan.”
“That’s right, I don’t remember you.”
“Open the journal at one of the yellow bookmarks. I put all the marks there in preparation for this meeting, but the journal is entirely his.”
She opened at the first yellow mark, being careful to not pull the small string loose. Here she found the left page filled with an incredibly detailed pencil portrait of the man standing before her. The right page was filled with notes, very neat and densely packed despite the lack of any guiding lines on the pages. The language, even the symbols it used, were entirely foreign to her, but she still recognised them as Irikshan’s work from the times she had peeked at his journal in the past. So Irikshan at least met him. It was near the beginning of the journal, but still a good way in.
“Turn back a few dozen pages, one at a time though.”
She paged back past a few walls of cryptic text that seemed tiny upon the giant pages, and drawings of various sights around Shormton that took full advantage of the space they had. These were interspersed with similar sets of portraits and notes to the first. She recognised many of the people depicted. Some townspeople, Malcolm and some of the other mages, Jared and herself, Drew and some soldiers. Irikshan met him after he had been at Shormton for some time already. But how long was he with us? She closed the book again and looked at the all multicoloured bookmarks. “Do all the yellow threads mark drawings that include you?”
She opened the last one. Three dragonlings sitting side by side, watching a man who sat with his back to a pond. The man’s arms were in the air as if he were telling an emotive story. The man could be ‘James’, but even with Irikshan’s skill, the drawing was too small to be sure. Are those the Jinmeng hatchlings?
Pulling on another thread near the end, she found a rougher drawing that was still well beyond the quality that she could hope to achieve. Three people sitting close together. Their faces were lit dramatically from below, but it was definitely Jarod, James, and herself. The lighting seemed to be as if from firelight, and there was no scenery drawn behind them. She flipped through to a few more random yellow threads. Indeed, every one marked a page that depicted a man that looked very much like the one standing outside her door.
“Come inside. Kiran, would you mind bringing some tea and biscuits? It seems we have a lot to talk about.”
“That we do.”
James and the mages withdrew to the drawing room, where Lucile placed the journal on a central table and let James page through it. He explained that he had narrowly escaped from a dragon who had come to kidnap Irikshan, carrying Irikshan’s journal. The dragon had apparently removed him from their memories.
Lucile was sceptical, even more so when he claimed he could read the journal, but he had secured her curiosity with those drawings. He paged between various red bookmarks under the golden glow of Lucile’s crystal and the lights Kiran had lit, and read passages describing certain noteworthy events almost exactly how she remembered them. Except Kamon was in them. According to James’ version of the tale, Irikshan might even have been killed by that Xinbi that was dead by the time Lucile had arrived. And this was apparently the first time that ‘Kamon’ confessed at least some of his true identity, but Irikshan had more notes near the end of the book about what Lucile had learned and told him. Irikshan’s writing is too neat and compact for him to have added himself there. He’s clearly prepared, so he could have rehearsed the entries with himself added in. But he’s in so many drawings which don’t show signs of tampering. “So why did you come back to us? Do you want us to mount some sort of rescue mission?”
“Oh, there’s exactly zero chance that us three will be able to rescue him. Guandong, or Shadow as he sometimes likes to be called, is the emperor’s right-hand draq.”
“The emperor, your brother? You can’t ask him for help?”
“Perhaps I could. But if I were to approach him openly, Guandong would find some way to be rid of me… permanently. I must rely on more subtle means to achieve my goals.”
“And those are?”
“Well, I can’t tell you most of them because that would put both you and my network at risk. But I can tell you what I need you to do while I stir up some trouble.”
“Go on.” Lucile was still not sold, but she found it hard to find a flaw in the elaborate tale he had spun thus far.
“I need you to travel to Tumenzar. Take Irikshan’s journal with you. Seek an audience with the Elders, their leaders. Any of the three will do, but Rumaga Gedawen will have the most interest in seeing Irikshan’s journal. They need to know what happened. I have also written some extra notes for them. Look at the front of the book.”
Lucile did as instructed and found some folded pieces of paper inserted between the cover and the blank first page. They were written in the same alien script as the rest of the journal, but were definitely not Irikshan’s handwriting. “How am I supposed to get to Tumenzar?”
“Speak to Colonel Drew Anson. Tell him I sent you and that you need to get to Tumenzar. He’ll come up with some excuse or way to get you there. Probably a cover story too. But don’t tell anyone else you’re going unless you have to, such as Malcolm. And no one but Drew is to know of the journal.”
Lucile sat in silence for some time. She looked at Jared, who seemed at just as much of a loss as to what to do as her. “It is very late, and you’ve given us a lot to think about. I’d like to sleep on it.”
“Yes, that is wise.”
“Would you like to stay in our guest room for the night?”
Lucile nodded, and showed him to the room – as she had already dismissed Kiran for the night. She took Irikshan’s journal with her into her room and placed it on her desk besides her own notes before she went to bed.
The brush swept across the canvas, leaving a trail of faint watery blue behind. The more thickly painted green, brown and blue circle at the centre began to bleed outwards as the paint became wet again, giving it a somewhat hazy look. Irikshan dipped the brush in water and moistened a couple of spots where it wasn’t bleeding quite as much as others. Once he was satisfied, he used his magic to lightly heat the paint so that it would dry faster. He stood back to look at his work.
“You finished?” Cheng asked him from across the room.
“Yes.” He moved to the side so that she could see. Almost a century old, she was one of the many new friends Irikshan had made. Her scales bore a pattern uncommon amongst the scriven; her stripes went lengthways along her body. Long narrow markings travelling up and down her neck, abdomen, tail, and limbs. She said that she’d even heard of spotted scriven, but Irikshan had only seen one other scriven with patterns like hers – back when he’d been in Longjing three seasons ago – and none with spots.
“Is this the world, but from really high up? You dream of flying?”
“I dream that one day we will manage to travel higher than we can now. Perhaps even beyond the sky.”
“This is not what I had in mind when we decided on the topic of dreams, but that is part of the fun.”
“Oh, did you mean sleeping dreams?”
“What did you draw?”
“Take a look.” She floated his art book over to him. Since he had been using her painting kit and this was meant to be a sort of farewell trade, she’d been drawing in his huge book. He wasn’t sure why he’d thought it was necessary to bring two such books along. Even with all the landscapes and people he’d drawn along the way, journeying northwest from Namhni to Longjing, southwest to Neugnbo – or Westhaven as the empire called it – via Shinokawa and Jhena, and then back northeast to Imaadudin itself via Libeno and Suraman, he had only used about two thirds of the first book. His almost daily collaboration sessions he’d had with Cheng, after teaching enchanting to members of the local dragon and mage community, had helped fill it out faster than normal in the month-and-a-bit he’d been in Pestowbo. Yet, even with that and the pages he’d torn out near the start for some reason, he still doubted he’d finish the first book before he arrived home.
“You dream about a man?”
“Yes. I see him in my dreams now and then, but he doesn’t exist. Or if he does, I’ve never met him.”
Irikshan mused about who it could be for some time. “He looks a bit like the emperor.” He had had the honour of meeting the emperor a few weeks ago.
“You think so? I sometimes struggle to tell humans apart.”
“The trick is to pay attention to the spacing of their facial features. They do not make it easy without scale patterns or horns, and always changing their clothes.” Irikshan studied the drawing closer. The man seemed to be in a classroom, though the tables were too big for human children. A blackboard on the wall behind him seemed to have some sort of writing on it, but Irikshan couldn’t decipher it. The man himself sat on a table, fiddling with a string instrument, but staring directly at the viewer. “Anyways, I guess it is time for me to finish packing. Thank you, Cheng. For the art, and for the painting lessons.” He bowed.
“Thank you too, Irikshan. Have a safe journey home!”
With that, Irikshan slipped his art book and stationary into his day bag. He departed from her house, then used the generous room between buildings to stretch out his wings before taking to the air. He flew towards Guandong’s residence, where he had been staying.
He watched a few dragons and humans that travelled about the community as he flew. What had started as a cluster of buildings where dragons visiting Pestowbo could stay had become a village of its own. It might not be entirely self-sustaining, drawing some goods and supplies from the nearby city and surrounding farmlands, but it was substantially bigger than Saitai. Partly on account of there being so many dragon-sized buildings.
In his time here, he’d met many dragons from across Meihian and Neungbo. Naturally, there were more scriven present than ostracas, but Yeong-Gi was far from the only ostraca. Irikshan had even met a huante. He looked very curious, with green feathers all across his body – no scales, belly plates, or even horns. Apparently, he had left his home country in search of training at Longjing’s university for his knack, which he avoided explaining, before he got welcomed into the community here.
Most members of the community, especially the dragons, seemed to come and go with the changing of the winds. Some owned private housing, while others utilised a collection of buildings that operate somewhat akin to an inn, except with some tenants staying for months or even years while others stayed for mere days. He hadn’t seen something like it before.
The central authority of the town seemed to be the emperor’s chief advisor, Guandong. Guandong himself often travelled to take care of other matters, but he had a group of administrators and enforcers who kept the place in order. Irikshan had grown close with two of those, Lingzan and Yeong-Gi. One of whom was approaching him now.
“Are you going to get ready to head off?” asked Lingzan.
“Yup! These past years have been great, but my funds are running low and I have responsibilities I should return to.”
“You told me already. I shall see you again shortly. Do not leave without us!” She veered off as Irikshan began to make his descent towards Guandong’s massive residence.
He entered the building and greeted the servants but declined their usual offer to accompany or assist him. Ever diligent and tidy, he had already packed most of his belongings into his bags in the morning before his final visits to some of his friends.
Once he was done packing, he exited the mansion and found Guandong surrounded by a small entourage, including Lingzan and Yeong-Gi. “Good afternoon Dres Kongying!”
“You ready to leave?” Guandong looked dressed to travel too.
“Yes. Are you all coming too? I did not expect so much company.”
“There has been increased criminal activity in some of the provinces you shall pass through on your journey home. You are an honoured guest, who has contributed greatly to our research. It would be a shame upon the emperor’s name if you did not arrive safely home.”
Irikshan did recall the emperor promising Irikshan that he would be guaranteed safe passage home, after he had had a run in with bandits on his journey to Longjing.
“Besides,” Guandong added, “we have business in that direction in any case.”
“Well, I welcome the company. Shall we go?”
“Yes. Let us return you home.”
With that, the thunder of dragons departed.