The Mytha’s Spell

The last few rays of sunlight manage to creep into Sylvahorn’s cave high up on a cliff.
“Don’t you need to go?” Sylva asks, and I look up from my carving.
“Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me,” I reply, packing my tools into my satchel.
“Do you want me to fly you down to the gates?”
“Yes please.” I climb up the moonlight-blue scales and find a place on the smooth scales of her shoulders. Sylva lumbers to the huge ledge and takes off, wheeling over the forest far below. I watch as the sun finally sinks beneath the horizon, dyeing the clouds of fairy-floss lace in watermelon, dandelion, and apricot. Eventually we begin to descend, and Sylva lands in front of the gate to Feydel. I climb down and thank her, then trot into the city to my home.

I can hear Jay singing, and then an excited and happy howl from Moon. Both are my best friends, and Mythali like me. I shout out and begin running, my shoes pounding on the cobblestones. At last I reach my house, and there are friends, waiting for me on the doorstep.
“Moon, Jay! When did you get back?” I ask.
“Why do you ask? You know it was today,” answers Jay in his singsong voice.
“Why didn’t you come and get me?” I huff a little bit of smoke at them.
“We were tired. Protecting Feydel is hard, you know,” replies Moon, standing up to go inside. Jay and I follow. Inside, the table is laid out with a feast, and both Moon’s and Jay’s families are here, and some other families who are friends of ours. My mum sees us, and calls that we can start eating. Everyone sits in a chair and piles food onto their plates, all the while asking when Jay and Moon have to leave again, asking them to recount their adventure. They reply that they will tell the story when they have finished eating.

At last they are finished, and the pair stand up to recount the story. A hush falls upon the group.
“We were on guard duty. All day we just patrolled the battlements of the wall, then one day we saw dust on the horizon,” begins Jay.
“As the group came closer, we could see that they were trolls, and a few giants. We told the captain, and he gathered us up to tell us what to do. The plan was for us to charge with battleaxes and clubs, and the flyers to drop stones on their heads. We hurried out to fight them before they were too close to the walls,” continues Moon.
“How did it go? What was the injury count at the end?” someone interrupts.
“Hang on, I was about to tell you the outcome. We won, but with fourteen of thirty injured. No, I wasn’t injured, but a friend of mine was,” answers Moon.
“When are you leaving again?” my mum asks.
“In a week, and Ember is to come as well,” Jay replies. Oh, at last! It’s been ages since I guarded the city. All the Mythali take turns, and when Feydel is in greater danger than usual then more Mythali are called to protect Feydel.
“Jay, sing us a song!” requests my little sister.
“Alright. The Mytha’s spell?” she nods, then Jay stands up and begins singing a poem.

The Mytha’s spell swirls
in all colours of pearls.
Don’t you dare lie,
it creates the Mythali.
This Orb gives power,
and all enemies will cower.
Don’t lose it at all,
or else their strength will fall.
If the glass does crack
then Mythali you’ll lack.

Everyone claps, and Jay bows, beaming. Others cry out for more songs to sung, and he obliges. I could live only on his songs, but I can see Moon beckoning for me to come and speak privately. I follow her out the door.
“During the battle, I heard one of the trolls saying that they hope to take over Feydel before the others get here. They don’t know who the others are, but they seem to have enough numbers that they could take Fyedel with relative ease. I told the Warlock afterwards, so he has planned for there to be more than the usual number of Mythali on guard with us,” explains Moon.
“How many?” I ask.
“Almost all of us. Probably only about twenty won’t be guarding.”
“Oh. But we don’t even know where the Orb is; it’s been lost for decades.”
“Well that won’t stop them finding it and destroying it. Ember, we can’t let that happen.” I sigh, and we keep meandering in silence for a while.
“What’s your plan?”
“Tomorrow, we’re going to look for the Orb, and we keep looking until nightfall.”
“Do you have any idea where it might be?”
“We’ll ask Sylvahorn, my wolf pack, and Arrow. Other than that, I have no idea.”

The warm sun’s rays swim down to meet us as we traipse out into the forest. Jay cups his hands around his mouth and screeches. A buzzard flies down, replying with a cry of his own, and lands on Jay’s outstretched arm.
“Right, Jay, you and Arrow search from above and cry out when you see anything worth checking. Ember, you ask Sylvahorn if she knows anything about the Mytha’s Spell and come find us if she does. I’ll do the same with the wolves. Keep your ears out for howling. Go!” commands Moon. I wonder when she became captain-like, but I suppose that she spends much more time on the wall and obeying orders than me.

When I reach the top, Sylva is sleeping. I wake her and explain, asking if she knows anything that can help us.
“I have rarely heard of that Orb, but I know this: it is somewhere in the forest. The wolves are more likely to know where it is. That is all,” she says.
“Well then we have to find Moon. I’ll help her look.”
“No. Only Moon can speak to the wolves, and I think she won’t want your help yet. So, you are returning to the wall in a week. Is there anything you want to learn before that?” I don’t know what this has to do with finding the Orb, but I suppose she wants me to know all I can to defeat the coming army.
“I’m a Mytha. I breathe fire, I am skilled with a sword, I am competent with clubs and axes, and with shoot with crossbow and longbow. What else is there that you can teach me?”
“All dragons can fly and breathe fire, and they have a spiked tail which can be used as a weapon – this you already know. Young ones about your age are also taught that spinning is good. However, you haven’t yet, since you were spinning when you knocked the fire and burned your arm. I will tell you how spinning is a weapon: use a blade and be furious. Your attackers might creep up behind you and expect to be able to stab you in the back, but if you listen and are ready then spin about and parry all blows. True dragons use their tails.”
“Thank you. Now I must go and help Moon.”

“Moon, howl where you are!” I roar through the trees, then listen for the reply. She’s near, so I just follow the sound, and soon burst into a clearing where the wolves are gathered.
“Did Sylvahorn have anything to say?” Moon asks.
“No, only that the wolves will know, since it’s in the forest,” I reply and then Fierstorrm, Moon’s wolf friend, speaks.
“We don’t know, but it is more towards the marshes,” translates Moon.
“Then let’s go!” I run off north with the wolves, but Moon stands in the emptied clearing. Oh, I forgot. Towards the marshes is the outcast wolf’s territory, and he promised to kill her if she returns when Moon was little. He almost did, but Fierstorrm’s mother saved her. I sigh, and just continue, calling out that we need to find the Mytha’s Spell, then at last she follows; reluctantly.

There are scratches covering almost every tree, marking the territory of Bludtooth Feircbiit the outcast wolf. As snarls wind through the trees to the wolf pack, Moon, and me, I wonder if maybe this wasn’t a good idea. The wolves form a circle around us and Fierstorrm tells Moon to call out to Bludtooth.
“Bludtooth Feircbiit, I am the Mytha called Moon, and I want to know if you are hiding the Mytha’s Spell!” she shouts.
“I promised to kill you if you should return! Why have you returned? But since you have stayed away this long, I will let you live – for now,” growls Bludtooth, as Moon translates for me, “I have not heard of the Mytha’s Spell, but I assume you mean the glass orb of mist. Yes, I have this thing in my territory, but you will have to fight me for it. You will not have it just by taking it, and do not even dare to steal it.” I can see the despair on Moon’s face. That insane creature isn’t called Feircbiit for nothing.
“Would he accept me to fight instead? At least I have my talons,” I whisper.
“I asked for the Orb, I must fight him for it,” Moon shakes her head.
“Then I will ask for me to fight. Tell him this: I am the Mytha called Ember, and I will take Moon’s place in the fight!” I say, then Moon sighs and repeats the message to Bludtooth. He agrees, and soon a black, shaggy-haired, battle-scarred wolf appears before me.
“I see you have the talons of a dragon. You must have fire ability, since I see no wings like those scaly two-legged eagles. Do not burn the forest down,” Bludtooth narrows his eyes at me, sneering. He has noticed the three finger-like talons on my hands – two on the outside and one beneath my thumb.

We circle, and then Bludtooth swipes at me. I dodge it, then try to claw him with my talons. He growls, I swipe again, and he returns the favour. Still neither of us are hurt, but soon something will go wrong for one of us. I hear the swoosh of coming claws, duck, and am knocked onto the leaves of the forest floor. Suddenly, Feircbiit and his stinking breath is over my face as I struggle to stand again. I grab a nearby stick and thrash him with it, then stand and slowly regain my lost ground. I stand bouncing the balls of my feet, ready to turn and hit the crazed wolf again as though my stick were a dagger. Wait, I have a dagger! But I decide to wait until I lose my stick. Eventually I do, and luckily I am bent over from dodging a swipe when I do lose it, so my hands are close to it. I am caught unsheathing my dagger from its place in my sock when Bludtooth jumps onto me. The fight drags on, with Bludtooth winning. I manage to continue, but I really can’t for much longer. Feircbiit has scratched and bitten all my limbs, but at least I have cut him as many times, opening up some old deep scars as I went. He’s standing over me again and, so I make to thrust my dagger up into his chest, but a sharp bark from Fierstorrm stops me.

“We will need him to tell us where the Orb is!” warns Moon. I roll away from Bludtooth and stand, holding my dagger to his throat.
“You may have won, but I want something in return for this Mytha’s Spell,” demands Bludtooth.
“What of ours could you possibly have a use for?” asks Jay.
“Did you get here while I was fighting?”
“You have a habit of asking questions with obvious answers.”
“I want Moon as a hostage until you can return the Mytha’s Spell to me,” interrupts the wolf. Moon stands perfectly petrified.
“But what… What if we can’t return it? We need the Orb, and our powers are weaker when we’re far away. There’s an army coming to destroy it so they can take over Feydel, and without the Orb we won’t be strong enough to defeat them…” Moon trails off.
“Then let me be its guardian. I will fight this war with you if that means you do not take the Orb from me,” declares Bludtooth. Why must the wolf stay with the Orb, I frown, but if I were to ask him he would probably say nothing.

Jay and I are going to the wall to meet the rest of our kind. When we reach the wall, we see lots of friends, and then the leader; Warlock Orion. Everyone just calls him Stargazer.
“Hey Ember, good to see you again. Where’s Moon?” he asks.
“Long story. But we found the Mytha’s Spell!” I reply.
“Really? You’ll have to tell me about it. Where is it?”
“In the forest; Moon’s going to bring it. She’ll be here soon.” Stargazer nods, and we go off to talk to friends.

“Hi Leo! And hello Gryphon, Charlotte, and Coralia!” I call out, wandering over to their circle. They make room and I sit down, joining the conversation.
“How are you, Ember?” inquires Charlotte.
“Good. What about you?”
“I’m good. My sister, Arachne, wanted to come, but she’s too young.”
“Watch this: Flyta, Dianna, Mehira, Aayaan and Javin are having a race,” Coralia announces. Everyone turns to watch them. Aayaan and Javin are twins, as are Flyta and Dianna. They are all very competitive, and it’s always hard to tell who wins. Someone cries out ‘go!’, then they’re off, running from the gathered Mythali, then all the way around the city, following the wall. For almost fifteen minutes we wait, then Mehira comes, with Dianna right on her heels, then Flyta. The other twins appear, lagging behind a bit.
“Go Javin! Go Aayaan! Go Flyta! Go Dianna! Go Mehira!” I shout. Javin runs ahead of the others on a burst of energy, then Aayan runs up behind Dianna. They level out, and all finish at almost the same time.
“Arny! Where’s Arny with his eagle sight?” asks Gryphon as the runners, with hands on knees or flopped on the ground, try to regain their breath.
“Flyta won, Mehira came second, Javin third, with Dianna and Aayaan tying on fourth!” declares Arny. Everyone cheers, congratulating them on their effort.
“Haha, I beat you, Mehira!” taunts Flyta.
“Maybe this time, but next time it will be me,” she smiles.

Moon finally arrives, with something that must be the Orb wrapped in cloth and Bludtooth by her side. Stargazer notices her, and asks her why she has brought the wolf.
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you in private,” she answers.
“Can Ember be there?” Moon nods then, after a moment, gestures for me to follow. I stand and pick my way over, the Stargazer leads us into the garrison to talk.
“This isn’t Fierstorrm, is it?” Stargazer asks.
“No, he’s Bludtooth Feircbiit, but we’ll get to that,” replies Moon, and we all sit down, with Moon still clinging to the Orb.
“When Jay and Moon came back last week, Moon told me about the troll she told you about. The next day, we went looking for the Orb, and the wolves told us it was probably towards the marshes, which is the mad outcast wolf’s territory,” I begin, “We found the wolf, Bludtooth Feircbiit, and Moon challenged him for the Orb.”
“Ember knows I was threatened with death if I ever returned to his territory, so she took my place and won,” Moon says, then Bludtooth speaks and she translates for us, “Ember won and I asked her for something in return for the Mytha’s Spell. I wanted Moon as hostage for her coming into my territory and also so that they return it to me later.”
“So we have to deal with Feircbiit for this entire war?” asks Stargazer, and we nod. We go back outside and mingle with our friends again for a while, and Moon leaves the Orb in the safety of the room.

A sharp whistle blow calls us to attention, and we all scramble to find our place in the lines. Stargazer strides up and down before us.
“The Mytha’s Spell has been brought to me by Moon the wolven. It will be guarded by the outcast wolf Bludtooth Feircbiit, and I suggest that you do not try to see the Orb or talk to Feircbiit. Other than that, only some of you know why so many of us are here. There is an army stronger than we’ve ever faced coming, with the goal to destroy the Mytha’s Spell and take over Feydel,” he explains.
“And if they destroy the Orb?” asks Charlotte.
“Then your powers disappear, and maybe you’ll become like everyone else,” Stargazer stops to look at Charlotte, sighing in disappointment that she didn’t already know. At least it wasn’t me asking the stupid question.
“And so what if we become normal? Who even wants to be a Mytha if they have to fight off weird creatures their entire life, anyway?” someone calls out.
“Being a Mytha is an honour, and besides, if there were no Mythali then Feydel would already be under the rule of other creatures,” Stargazer replies. “Right, Flight Division to the air and on wall patrol. For the rest of you, it’s archery and sling practice.” We salute, then the line behind me collectively takes off, and I watch Jay and Gryphon fly over the wall.

The bell tolls six times. I get up and move the curtains back, letting the rising sun’s rays flood in. I get ready, dressing in the grey and faded red tunic of the Fire Division. The others in my dorm begin to wake, but I’m already walking out into the corridor down to the hall where breakfast will be served.

Archery practice again, then a new day bringing swordplay. It’s a few days before the Fire Division gets to do patrol. I stand on the wall with Celosia and Ash, who are sisters and phoenix Mythali. We watch for the rising dust, but none comes. It’s a full two weeks before the cry rings out.
“Dust and armour glimmer!” Everyone in the courtyard pauses, mid battle practice, watching as Stargazer rushes up the stairs two at a time to the walltop. He scans the south-east horizon, then calls us to attention as he blows his whistle. He walks down the stairs with the two who were on the walltop in tow.
“Some of you have been asking me about the wolf, Feircbiit. He and Moon are protecting the Mytha’s Spell, since Fiercbiit has returned it to us. I have discovered some things about it,” Stargazer explains. “Moon, please go get the Mytha’s Spell.” She left her spot in the Animal Division and went to retrieve the Orb, and Bludtooth follows. After a moment, she returns and stands besides Stargazer, holding a bundle of cloth with both hands. Stargazer takes the bundle and unwrapps it, holding out the Orb.
“Everyone, line up and touch the Mytha’s Spell – gently. And no pushing,” he commands, and we line up. “Once I touched the Orb, I could speak and understand all languages. You will also gain a power, and you will need time to learn how to control it or learn how it works.” Eventually I reach the front of the line and timidly reach out to touch it, feeling the cool glass and watching the dust swirl around inside. After a few seconds, I pull my hand away and walk away. My skin begins to itch as I sit down next to Ash, Celosia, and Leo. I scratch at it, then look down in surprise as gold scales cover my skin.
“Ember! What…?” asks Celosia, equally surprised.
“Your skin! It’s turned to dragon scales!” exclaims Leo.
“Wow. You won’t need armour now!” smiles Gryphon. I smile back, and watch as my new armour spreads and hardens. At last Moon and Jay come over. They are startled and amazed by my scales, then Moon shows me her claws.

I hear six clangs, and realise that it’s morning again. The strangeness of my clothes against my new dragon scales reminds me of yesterday. Today we’ll learn how our new gifts or powers work. I stumble down the corridor to where breakfast is held, concentrating more on my iridescent scales than where I’m walking. I end up bumping into a door as it gets opened by Coralia.
“Good morning,” I mumble as my face heats up, hoping she doesn’t see my embarrassment. Oh, I have scales. Nevermind.
“Hello Ember. I can’t wait to see what new powers everyone has,” says Coralia.
“I dread what the banshee twins have. They’ll probably have each other’s power as their new one,” I sigh. One has a death-predicting cry and the other has a deafening cry.
“They do. They can’t wait for the war, they want to see what their screams sound like.”
“But we already know what it’ll sound like: high-pitched and loud beyond normal capabilities for the deafening cry, and high yet low-pitched at the same time in a way that curdles blood for the death-warning cry.”
“At least they are considerate and don’t deafen us,” Coralia shakes her head and rolls her eyes. We reach the hall and sit down next to Jay.
“Good morning,” he smiles.
“How’s Oakia?” I ask.
“She can heal now, but she really wanted-” a shout comes from the Flight Division’s dorm.
“I can turn into a tree!” Jay cocks his head, and we are all still for a moment, then he runs to the dorm and we follow. It’s true. Oakia has three traits. I wonder if the rest of us will get another trait, but I suppose that Oakia had to wait over night, so we should too.

We have swordplay practice again. I go to put on my armour, but it doesn’t fit. It got stuck on something at my back, and when I pushed it something hurt between my shoulder blades. I took of the armour and felt behind my back. My fingers touch a scaly membrane. I have wings! I stretch them out and take to the sky.
“Ember! You have wings! How…?” calls Moon.
“The Orb!It’s the Orb!” I reply from even higher than the bell tower. The whole of Feydel lies before me, and for once I don’t need Sylva to fly. As I begin to descend, I ponder whether I’ll stay in the Fire Division, or be moved to the Flight Division. I land with a thud, both because I hadn’t yet learned how to not and because I was copying how Sylva landed. And also because my wings gave out. I need to be careful not to sprain them until they are strong enough.
“How can you stay on the ground when the sky is so amazing?” I cry.
“The same reason as why you fell the last meter just now: we get tired,” answers Jay. Oh, he saw that, did he? Well then I guess everyone else in the courtyard did too. Everyone is discovering their new powers, and all through the day the courtyard is filled with surprised and happy cries of powers being revealed. Jay teaches me how to care for my wings and eventually night comes.

“Arm yourselves!” I cry. The bell rings after a moment, and then I hear everyone preparing for the war. The army has been drawing closer every day, but we still don’t know what we will be fighting. However, there are so many that they have the upper hand, despite our being Mythali. I wait a moment more on the battlements, then fly down to join my forces crashing out the gate to start fighting. My dagger is in my sock and my sword hangs from my belt, and of course I have my flames to breathe. A king leads them, riding with his soldiers into the fray. They are all wearing Elekkan helmets. Dread fills me, realising that these soldiers are half elven. They have not come only to rule Feydel, they have come for the lands north of us. North lies Wyvernfort and Flaimebaen. Wyvernfort promise things and never fulfills it, but Flaimebaen’s king is a caring warrior who walks through his city’s streets unguarded. I don’t want his land to be conquered.
“These are Elekkan!” I scream so that everyone knows who we are fighting before it’s too late.

“Feydel!” we cry, and I hear the banshee twins shrieking their death cries as we charge.
“For Elekkaya!” replies the Elekkan. We clash and the war is officially on. I take flight and burn a whole circle of Elekkans, fanning the flames higher with my wings. The fire begins to go too far, so I start fanning so hard that it makes my wings hurt in the effort to put out the fire. It goes out after a moment and I land, standing still for a moment, then drawing my sword and running to fight.
“Yu’a lel yaen dun for unzrath mim, Ridzohold Sutthkun, ed te mi lel ismi’va Ridzohold Yaenkun!” calls the Elekkan king, but of course we don’t understand.
“Thee lel yin doon for oonzrath meem, Ridzohold Sootthkoon, ed te me lel isme-va Ridzohold Yinkoon?” I murmur.
“He said ‘you will all fall before me, Ridzohold Sutthkun, and then I will be Ridzohold Yaenkun’,” Stargazer shouts, before replying, “Yu lel nin ’va Yaenkun, oli neld, ed yaen thae zodir’a sod!” This angers Ridzohold, and he charges at Stargazer. Jay, Moon, and Bludtooth go to protect him, since they are nearest. Ridzohold swings his blade, the air around it hissing, as Bludtooth leaps onto the half-elf king, growling. The hiss of a swinging sword near me brings me back to my fight.

Parrying the sword, I turn and strike. The Elekkan blocks me, pushing so hard that I almost stumble back. Regaining my balance, I widen my stance and strike again. This time I hit my opponent, and he is thrown back, clutching his arm. I strike again, then jab his chest. I turn to face another, swinging my sword round and killing them. Around and around, swinging my sword up and down, over, and block! Time becomes my movements, accentuated by the clash of sword upon steel and the screams from Mythali and Elekkans alike.

A howl from Moon makes me look in her direction, and I see that an Elekkan is giving her trouble. She can’t get the soldier away or even wound him, not with her arm like the river it seems to be. I fly over to her, then pull her up and away, landing on empty ground to bind her arm. I tear off her sleeve and tie it around her arm, then send her back to fight.
“Find Emma and you’ll be right,” I say, then we both return to the skirmish.

I take flight and try the burning trick again, then eventually land in exhaustion. I’m not used to using my wings, so now I must fight with my sword again. Our troops are dwindling, and the injured and dead are lying in the dust that has turned crimson with blood. Leaping over them, I hurry to Stargazer.
“Find Emma, will you?” I say.
“Have you seen yourself?” he asks.
“No, but I- look out!” I cry. Ridzohold is jumping onto us, and then we’re surrounded by his soldiers. I burn some of them, but then when I try to burn Ridzohold, I can’t. Argh, I forgot my nine-shot limit! I think he hits me over the head then, because everything goes black. Stargazer shouts something. I think the battle is almost over and we have lost, but I won’t know until I wake.

There are murmuring voices around me, then darkness again. I wait, dreaming something confused about a queen and magic. I manage to open my eyes, watching a shadow move beside me, gesturing. After a moment, my head is tilted back and water pours into my mouth. I sit up and take in my surroundings, realising that I must be in Ridzohold’s tent.
“Get ninir! Lirv mim elu! Vire-’va mim’uz sard?” I shout.
“Cal don. Thae sard is tther, nu lytn,” Ridzohold point to my scabbard, “Yu is amezis Mytha. Ttha is hoh yona is ord’pot, korti?”
“We it mat?” I spit, and the Elekkan king sighs. Huh, that’s strange, I understood Ridzohold and spoke his language.
“Lu, hoh on du yu way itnu ehrr to uv un? Mi lel-nin azk fer serndar, itu’va nhver erk’va itth bare ardeza lek yu’uz, bo mi no sumtthig ttha muk’va itnu kwik’va,” he says.
“Mi du-nin cer abu yu’uz rekahrri. Lirv mim elu! Mi lel-nin let yu taek Flaimebaen!” I scream, grabbing my sword and dashing between the tents to open ground. I unfurl my wings and fly the rest of the way across the plain to Feydel.

“Ember, you’re alright!” Moon drops her axe and runs up to me.
“Of course. What did you expect?” I inquire.
“You got kidnapped by Ridzohold! What did you expect us to expect?” asks Stargazer, walking up to us.
“Oh, hello. Yeah, anyway, Ridzohold wanted to get me to make this war quick, but I got away before he told me,” I reply.
“He would have wanted our surrender,” Moon rolls her eyes.
“He didn’t, actually. Ridzohold said he knew we wouldn’t ever surrender,” I answer, and leave it at that. I pick up a war hammer and practice with Moon.

I watch the Elekkans from the walltop, strolling about, wondering what Ridzohold might want from me, wondering why he kidnapped me. Why didn’t Ridzohold kidnap one of the banshee twins, or Coralia, or Stargazer? If Stargazer got kidnapped then we would have no captain, and it would be easy to overcome us. Ridzohold doesn’t seem like one to overlook this, so I can only continue to ponder this. The sun begins to sink to the horizon, casting its golden light over everything, making my scales even brighter. The bell signals dinner, and the next person on patrol comes up, letting me go down and eat. The hall is filled with clinks of dishes and cutlery, and once I have my food I amble over to Moon, Leo, Gryphon, and Mehira.

We are woken early in the morning, with Stargazer shouting orders for us to go fight. I wiggle out of bed and into my tunic, grabbing a crossbow on my way through the courtyard and into the sky. I wait until I hear Stargazer calling us to charge, then shoot at the Elekkans. I light my arrows on fire and send them whistling over the Mythali and into the half-elves’ ranks. For a while, all I think of is where I’m going to shoot, but then comes an Elekkan arrow aimed straight for me. I dodge it, then picking it up to shoot back, I see it has something attached. It’s a bracelet with a message. That Ridzohold is crazy. The message is in Elekkan, but the words get stuck in my mind. I put the bracelet and message in my pocket and decide to look closer later, then I fit the arrow to my shaft and shoot. The battle goes on until the golden light of sunset, and by then I am so drained that I have no energy even to find Emma about the arrow that hit my shoulder. I suppose I must find her, because it really stings. Fortunately, she finds me and helps me to my room, then cleans the wound and lets me sleep.

“You can be a kaen. Look, lu, see your marjeki bracelet,” a voice whispers. I turn, then spin too far and fall. All I can see is like looking through a kaleidoscope, all mixed up and confused.
“Hael! Let me go! Hael me get away!” I shriek, “Get this pel off me, lirv mim elu!”
“You can’t go, or you won’t be kaen. Put on your bracelet!” the voice says, then silence, then more words in Elekkan but said by someone else.
“An perl; Mytha. Rid; naem of Farezpek. Jord; kala. Wenja; wenja. Kin, pawrl, bul; fare. Shehs; ’uz yaen from notth to sutth, from artt to vez.” Something cold is placed on my forehead, and I open my eyes. I see Emma and Aisling standing over me, with Moon, Jay, Celosia, Coralia and Stargazer nearby.

“Are you alright, Ember?” Emma asks.
“I think so,” I answer, then ask, “Why is Aisling here? She’s not a healer.”
“You were crying out in your sleep, but we think you were speaking Elekkan. That’s why we got Stargazer,” she replies.
“How do you know those words?” he asks.
“What did they do to you last night?” inquires Moon.
“What does ‘hael’ and ‘lirv mim elu’ mean?” Jay and Celosia query.
“Leave her alone! She’s had a stressful day: she got hit by an arrow, even if it bounced off thanks to her scales, she was kidnapped yesterday and escaped this morning, and now all you do is crowd around her, and ask what those words mean and if she’s alright!” sings Coralia. “I’m sorry to use my siren voice, but Ember needs some peace.”
“Thank you, Coralia,” I sigh. “I don’t know how I knew those words I said. I don’t know what they did when I got kidnapped, but when Ridzohold spoke I understood and replied in his language.”
“Hael means help, and lirv mim elu means leave me alone,” Stargazer announces.
“Ember, what were you dreaming?” Aisling cocks her head at me, her face filled with concern.
“Ridzohold spoke, then I fell. I screamed something, I think about a spell, and then Ridzohold tells me to put on my magic bracelet. After that, someone else tells me a poem or something. I don’t really remember, but it was like looking through a kaleidoscope,” I explain.
“What bracelet?” Aisling inquires.

“Calm down! I haven’t looked at properly myself yet,” I reply, feeling in my pocket for the bracelet and message. I read the message, trying to keep it so that the others couldn’t read it even though it was likely to be in Elekkan. It was the strange poem from my dream, so I already knew what it meant after reading it. Then, I don’t even know why, I slid the bracelet onto my wrist. I knew the others wanted to look closely at it, but I didn’t want them to pass it around when it was only mine.
“Ember…?” Jay whispers, and I simply look at him questioningly. His eyes widen in fear, and I look away. New thoughts that have never been mine start swirling about in my mind, helping me to realise that I want to be a queen. Ridzohold will help me to become Queen of Feydel once he overcomes us and he is the king. Then comes a strange idea: does Ridzohold love me? Oh, I hope not! The throne will be crowded with him sitting upon it with me, so maybe I’ll have to – I smirk at this – dispose of him. I’m not going to marry just to become Queen! It’s weird that I don’t even know who is the King of Feydel right now. I guess I’ve always been so busy carving with Sylva and fighting with the other Mythali that I never found out.

“Pay attention, will you! Right, tell me what that note said and then you can sleep. It’s late, and you never know when the Elekkans will strike again,” Stargazer says, bringing me back to now.
“A pearl; Mytha. Red; name of Ember. Gold; scales. Wings; wings. Pink, purple, blue; fire,” I sigh, leaving out the last bead’s meaning. “I think the shell was a mistake.” Stargazer frowns, but then gets everyone to move out of the Fire dorm and into their own beds.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Celosia murmurs, pulling he sheets over me.
“Yes,” I mumble, already half asleep in dreams of reigning.

It’s two days until the next attack, then five. Each time I see Ridzohold, and he whispers ‘kaen’, and somehow the word reaches me through the sword clashes. I know I can’t be Queen, but still I wonder what it would be like.

The warning bell rings, and we arm ourselves, rushing out the gates to defend Feydel. Grabbing a sling and handful of pebbles, I take to the sky and fly over the Elekkans, hovering until I see those on the ground charging. I aim and shoot over and over, my head filled with hopeless dreams of queenship, until I see Ridzohold. This time, he doesn’t have to whisper ‘kaen’ to me for me to consider siding with him. I’m in the air; no-one will know that it’s me killing my own unless they look up. But what if they do? They won’t, I think, hoping it’s true. Just don’t breathe fire at your fellow Mythali. No, why am I thinking this? These thoughts are making me sick. I would never kill a Mytha, at least I don’t want to think I ever would. I’m about to just stick to my own side, then Ridzohold looks up at me. Can he hear my thoughts or something? Anyway, I’ve decided now: I’m on the Elekkans’ side.

Looking for my friends, I aim and shoot at other Mythali, barely able to believe what I’m doing. I might have switched sides, but I don’t want to kill my friends. As the battle goes on then finishes and the war continues on, I endure my secret betrayal in uneasiness. It’s hard to keep this dark secret, and I just want the war to be over. If Ridzoholds kidnaps me again, everything will be easier, because I won’t have to hide the fact that I’m on the half-elves’ side. I hope that Ridzohold is telepathic, because I can’t just talk to him in battle and say ‘please kidnap me’.

Yet another fight, and it seems that the Elekkan king must be telepathic, because he kidnaps me again. He binds my arms so I can’t escape, even if I wanted to.
“Thank you,” I say, but the words come out in Elekkan.
“So you’re ready to be Queen?” Ridzohold asks, and I nod. My bracelet probably has a spell on it that lets me understand and speak Elekkan. Moon screams out for me, and of course she doesn’t know the truth of it. I struggle against the bonds, because if I don’t then my friends will wonder what’s going on. Stargazer is watching me, confused yet somehow understanding. Oh no. I forgot that he’s also a Mytha, I’m so used to him only having one ability. He knows what’s happening, I think, wanting to be wrong. So he’s an owl Mytha. He’s wise and can communicate in any language, and I suppose he can tell what’s going on in someone’s mind. That’s probably how he knows. Why did I let my guard down? Then come more screams from Jay, Celosia, and Coralia. They don’t understand, none of them do. I’ve been treated like I’m useless except for my fire my whole life by the Mythali, and for once I’d like to be important.
“Hurry!” I urge Ridzohold, tired of hearing my friends crying out for me. Beginning to run, Ridzohold drags me along, pretending for the Mythali that I’m actually captive. At last we reach his tent and he throws me in.
“Stay there. I’ll send a guard to make sure you don’t escape and then I’ll see you after the battle,” Ridzohold laughs.

“Here’s the plan: we continue striking until Ember can get the Mythali’s leader kidnapped. If everything goes well, that will only take one more battle. After that, we infiltrate Feydel’s castle and kill the King or Queen. Ember will be the ruler of Feydel, with me of course being high king over it, I just can’t be everywhere at once. I’ll have other lands to rule as well,” Ridzohold explains, the others in the tent nodding.
“When will the next fight be?” I ask.
“Well, we’ve been stalling between each to give you time to change sides, but now that you’re here, I suppose we can go again… Hmm, we definitely need surprise this time. We’ll charge at four in the morning,” Ridzohold answers. “General Minfor, tell your troops to get ready. I want archers on the right flank of the foot soldiers tomorrow, and the cavalry on the left.”
“Yes sir!” General Minfor salutes and rushes out of Ridzohold’s tent as the Elekkan king dismisses the others, sending me to find a place to sleep.

Something wakes me, and I realise the next battle is about to start. I get ready and stand near Ridzohold as the Elekkans shift about in anticipation in their ranks.
“Ember, go get the Mytha leader. All Elekkans are to stay here until she returns or we see fire,” he commands. I take flight and speed towards Feydel. Landing on the battlements, I creep down the stairs through the courtyard, then to Stargazer’s room. Pulling out a rope and cloth from a cupboard, I gag and bind him.
“Listen, I’m sorry. I won’t let Ridzohold do anything to you, but it’s not like you’re going to be treated like a respected Mytha and warlock from now on,” I whisper, pulling Stargazer from his bed and back through the courtyard. I must have been taking a last look at the courtyard, because I saw charcoal on the floor near the wall. I don’t know why, but I drag Stargazer over and leave him on the floor, picking up the charcoal and writing ‘I’ve got Stargazer. Please try not to panic. To all my friends, just get away, I don’t want you to get hurt. I’m sorry!!!’. Then that’s it. I pull Stargazer up into the air with me and fly back to the Elekkans. Any rumours about what I’d done would be confirmed, and surely no Mythali or anyone who knew what I’d done would call themselves my friend after this. I shouldn’t have written on the wall. Now I must become Queen, because I can’t turn back to the Mythali, and where else would I go? Not even Sylva, she’d see that I have a secret, and force me to tell her. But back to being Queen. There’s really nothing that can stop me, so I have nothing to worry about.

I land next to Ridzohold, dropping Stargazer and shoving him to the side.
“Someone guard him. He’s really intelligent,” I sigh, then Ridzohold begins to charge as a foot soldier steps out of rank to guard the Mytha captain. The familiar tone of the bell rings in the distance to wake the Mythali. Someone must have seen me, but even if they didn’t I wrote the message. By the time we’re almost at the gates, the Mythali come charging out. I draw my sword, choosing not to fly and burn in case my friends didn’t heed my warning. They’re so stubborn and spirited that I can count on them not to have run away.

Thinking it strange that I now have no war cry, I run into the groups of Mythali, spinning and cutting. Around and block, swing, strike then parry. It’s back to the war-dance I have made and really all I do is distract my former comrades until a half-elf can sneak up and kill them. I swing my blade against Gryphon’s, and he moves his shield against my sword. The familiar heaviness of my sword is lighter than my heart as I continue to attack old allies.

“Why did you switch sides? This isn’t anything like you. What happened?” Gryphon asks, striking my Elekkan shield.
“What’s the point of asking if you’re going to try to kill me anyway? I’ve trained with all these Mythali, I know their tricks and abilities. If you want to defeat me, go find the banshee twins,” I reply.
“Why did you betray us?!” repeats Gryphon.
“It doesn’t matter. Why didn’t you run like I said to? You know I’m going to end up killing you!” I’m angry that they’re all so stubborn, but I suppose that they’d be angry about my betrayal as well. They want revenge.
“Fine, I’ll go. But we’ll be waiting in the shadows until you can explain,” Gryphon sighs, turning and running from me. It’s so hard, to see the Mythali being killed. And I think they’re losing, which makes my heart heavier.

I see Gryphon running with Moon, Bludtooth, Jay, and others I don’t care to recognise right now as long as they’re safe. Forcing my mind to return to the battle, I swing my sword against a Mytha’s shield. Strike, clash, swing, turn, strike again and clash, parry then swing. I suppose that now my friends are safe I can use my fire.

At last the battle is finished, and the remaining Mythali have retreated. Picking my way through the bodies back to the Elekkans, I spot three faces who I thought had gone with Gryphon: Leo, Charlotte, and Ash. Didn’t they think they were my friends? And Ash, she was way too young. She was only in her second year of training and fighting with the other Mythali. I looked closer at the trio, seeing that Ash had a cut on her arm. I didn’t fight Leo and Charlotte, but the memory of cutting someone’s arm floods through my mind. Then I remember swinging my blade again and against a sword, blocking and parrying some Mytha’s attacks. Then I must have gotten carried away and… it’s my fault alone that Ash is dead. I start to feel dizzy.
“Are you all right, Ember?” Ridzohold asks, and I fall to the ground knowing nothing but the realisations of where I’ve been cut.

A bandaged arm retreats from helping me sit up, and I look up at Ridzohold.
“Did I faint?” I ask, and the half-elf king nods, then gives me some water. I’m covered in bandages, but really I’m fine. Ridzohold is also covered in bandages, and most of the Elekkans would be too.
“So, in a few days we storm the castle and then I become Queen,” I say.
“Yes. That will be a fine day, soon-to-be Queen Ember,” Ridzohold beams.
“And then an even finer day when you are crowned High King Ridzohold Yaenkun,” I reply.

My coronation has been planned and preparations are being made. Feydel’s castle was successfully taken over, although I had no part in it. Ridzohold said that I should let my wounds heal, and he wouldn’t let me fight because otherwise I would get more cuts. He said a queen should be beautiful, which is true but I wanted to help in taking the castle. The previous ruler, a king, was apparently called Lance. The castle has been cleaned up and my room is what would have been Lance’s wife’s, he had married. My crown will be silver with amethysts and black onyxes embedded into it. The royal tailors are making my outfit, and all I can do is sit and watch, then in nine days I will be the beautiful Queen Ember.

I get up from my desk and walk onto my balcony to look out over the east gate into Feydel. Beyond the wall is untamed land although it will soon be mine. Plains with a river running through it to a lake, then just south of some mountains are woods. I think the river is called Fayribrooke, and the lake would be Fayripool. The name reminds me of a book I saw in the castle’s library, so turning from my balcony, I begin the attempt to find it again. Down the spiral staircase and through the empty halls I wander, turning this way and that. The corridors are sometimes filled with wonderful tapestries, and sometimes filled with suits of armour. When I find myself in the kitchens after finding my way from the armoury then from the dungeons, I declare myself lost.
“What are you looking for, milady?” the head cook asks, noticing my presence.
“I got lost. Do you know where the library is?” I answer.
“Yes, milady. Go out to the dinning hall, turn left along the wall, and take the first left. Then walk down the corridor to the end, up two flights of stairs, and the library will be down the second corridor, milady,” the cook answers.
“Thank you,” I say, turning out of the kitchens and walking out to the dinning hall.

I open the door and step into a silent lake of knowledge. There’s hardly anyone in the library. I amble through the empty space to the aisles, where the smaller space wraps around me like a thick blanket. I pick up a leather-bound book and open the cover. The bright colours of the illumination seem too loud the the warm silence of the library. Remembering why I came to the library in the first place, I put the book on a stack and try to recall where I saw the book last time. I think there are multiple entrances, because I didn’t come through the empty space last time. Fayribrooke, Fayripool, where’s that book? I frown, searching. I turn down an aisle and see a familiar book on top of a stack. Picking it up, I flick through and see that it’s the right book. The cover is a dark brown, imprinted with a tree. Inside, the pages are filled with enchanting images of fairies dancing in the woods and rings of toadstools. I can read, but I’m not all that good. I walk back to the library entrance.
“Excuse me, can I borrow this?” I ask the librarian. He looks up from his book.
“Yes milady, but try not to keep it for too long,” he answers.
“Thank you,” I say, and walk out to try and find my room again.

“Milady?” inquires a voice just as I step onto a stair. I look up and see a smartly-dressed man.
“Yes?” I ask.
“I’m Francis, your tutor,” he says.
“Just in time. I borrowed this book, but I can’t read very well,” I reply, holding up the book.
“Ah. Well, I’ve been looking for you so that I can show you the room where your lessons will be held,” Francis explains. I follow him to the room and then he begins the lesson.

I stand behind the doorway into the throne room. It’s crammed with Feydelins, and all I can think of is that I’m nervous. My seven maids-in-waiting are standing around me, fixing my hair and whispering things to calm my nerves. I’m wearing a tiered garnet-red, violet, and royal blue dress with black lace, a royal blue sash tied thrice around my waist. Alice, the oldest of the maids-in-waiting, opens the huge oak doors for me. Then we walk down the long aisle, up the three stairs andonto the dais. I stand in front of the throne, facing the multitude of people. Ridzohold comes to stand by my side.
“People of Feydel, as many of you know, your city has been taken by my people, the Elekkans. We come from Elekkaya, a land south from here. I am Ridzohold Sutthkun, and I intend to become Ridzohold Yaenkun by conquering the lands north of here. Although I have control over this city, I will not rule it. You will have a queen, and she is one of your own. She is a Mytha of the dragons with purple flames, and gold scales and wings. Some of you may have known her, as a daughter or a friend, but from now on you will know her as Queen Ember!” the half-elf king declares. General Minfor comes over from the side, holding a pillow with my crown on top. I drop to a deep curtsy, holding it until I feel the crown on my head. Rising, I sit on the throne as the crowd makes a feeble attempt at cheering. They aren’t happy, but I’m Queen at last. Queen!

The throne room is cleared, after ages of sitting on the throne while everyone files out and back to their homes. At last I can have some peace to sift through my wonderings of what their thoughts are. But no, Francis is coming to find me just as I am off the dais. Even though he’s technically escorting me, it’s more like I’m following him to my schoolroom. I could find it from the library if I tried, but I’ve never been from the throne room to there. When we reach the schoolroom, I sit on the floor. I just sat on a throne for almost an hour, I can’t be bothered to sit in a chair. Francis takes a huge book off the shelf and opens it.
“Today you’ll learn the history of Feydel,” Francis says.
“Is the beginning of Mythali part of it?” I ask, caring more about whether I should be interested or not than the line of rulers my city has gone through.
“That’s the most prominent part,” answers Francis, and starts, “About two hundred and forty years ago, Feydel was built. Its people lived in peace for a hundred and fifty-three years before a great army came and almost defeated Feydel’s small, unneeded army. After that, King Morgan asked the last fairy to help him.”
“What was the army? Whose was the army?”

“Some think they were Elekkans, or true elves, or some even think they might have been faeries. As to whose army it was, no-one knows, except that its leader was a man named Rai’ynkomyaer.”
“Ray- Ray-ink-myeer?”
“Ray-ink-oh-myeer, yes. So Morgan asked the fairy to help him protect the city should any more would-be conquerors come. The fairy said that the help would come at a great cost, but the King begged and pleaded. The next day, a strange glass orb was left on the castle doorstep with a note, which is now known as the Mytha’s Spell. The note had on it the poem explaining the Orb’s power. The King went out to the forest to thank the fairy, but he couldn’t find her, even when he promised to find her several drops of Moon-berry Dew.”

“What was the cost? What’s a Moon-berry, and what’s Moon-berry Dew?”
“Nobody knows what the cost was, because Morgan didn’t ask, but people have their suspicions. A Moon-berry is a rare and ancient lavender-coloured fruit that is sweeter than honey and leaves even honey sour for a month in opinion because of its incredible taste. Moon-berry Dew is the misty juice of the Moon-berry. Both are a hundredfold times more precious than gold or diamonds.”
“How can anything be sweeter than honey? Why have I never heard of it? How do you get the dew?”
“You’ve never heard of Moon-berries because otherwise everyone would be looking for them, and then they wouldn’t exist any more. And I don’t know how to get the dew, but if I ever find a Moon-berry then I’ll just be happy to have found it to taste it,” Francis explains. “Can you please try not to interrupt so much? I’ve forgotten where we’re up to.”
“Uh… finding Moon-berry Dew.”

“Oh, yes, thank you. So the Mytha’s Spell was found in the armoury with a poem explaining what the mysterious glass orb was. A maddened wolf was seen prowling around the city for about two weeks before disappearing. After a while, children were born with traits or powers of creatures, mythical or not. Thanks to the poem, the Feydelins knew that these strange yet wonderful children were the Mythali, and when the next army came seeking Feydel’s peace the Feydelins weren’t completely helpless. All the children who were ten or older at that particular time had had almost five years to train to be soldiers. At first, the Mythali’s parents were angry that their children had to fight at such a young age, but over time everyone realised that if the Mythali didn’t fight then Feydel would fall to the hands of others and being a Mytha became an honour.

Several decades before now – no-one quite remembers when – the Mytha’s Spell vanished entirely from Feydel, and on the same day as its disappearance, a mad wolf was seen,” Francis completestelling me Feydel’s history, and sets me to practise my reading skills.

All I have to do is read about the major battles between the Mythali and other creatures over Feydel, but it’s hard and slow work, and my mind wanders. What was the cost that was paid for the orb to be created? Where’d the last fairy go? What was Rai’ynkomyaer? Then at last I am released from the tumble of thoughts and reading about battles, and I am escorted back to room.

Despite my exhaustion from reading about Feydel’s major battles, I pick up the book I borrowed from the library and begin reading. Me being new to reading, I am amazed by the marvellous images my mind creates from words as I read. Faeries dance beneath a summer sun through tall grass. Each faerie has gold or silver hair, and each wears a silken laced dress that flows with the wind as water in a stream swirls around rocks. They’re all wildflowers in their beauty, and can’t be compared to roses. Butterflies and birds fill the illuminated borders of the text just as the same creatures land on the faeries’ fingers when they stretch out their hands. When night falls, unicorns come to take the faeries into the safety of the woods where the owls are waking to take flight and protect them from any intruders. The stars above the mystical wood glow as bright as candles in the night, twinkling like the gems in my crown. It’s the new moon, so the stars are the only light, but this only adds to the wonder of the night in the land of this book.

“Queen Ember, it’s time for the banquet,” one of my maids-in-waiting says.

“A banquet? Oh, for my crowning. This morning is so long ago,” I am pulled from the faeries’ brilliant world and back to my own, which is dull in compare, where Elowen is standing in my doorway. She’s come to take me to the Great Hall. Putting my book somewhere safe, I stand and Elowen accompanies me down to the banquet. My other maids-in-waiting are already there, and some other people that I’m not sure if I’ve met yet as well. They all rise when I enter, and once I’ve taken my seat, they sit again. When anyone arrives, they bow or curtsey then take a seat. It’s only a few minutes before all seats are filled, and then a few more until bowls and pots are brought in by servants and placed on the tables. Everyone watches me, and I realise they’re waiting for me to eat before they do. I cut a slice of pie and eat it, careful not to drop any of it and appear again as the low-class soldier I’ve always been.

How can a pie be so full of different meats and spices, fill the air with a thick aroma, and beg you to cut another and another slice? I am astounded by how each bite tastes; in each, there are so many new flavours that I won’t dare count. As well as the pies, there’s a myriad of different soups and salads. There’ll be two more courses, so I eat as sparingly as possible given the amount of fare that has been provided.

As the table is being cleared for the second course, a jester comes out from the kitchen with an apparently stolen bowl of soup. The head cook runs out after him with a rolling pin in hand. In an effort to dodge the angry cook, the jester ducks and spills his soup all over his jaunty costume. He frowns and shoos the cook away. Tossing the emptied soup bowl after the cook, the jester whistles, and two more jesters enters the room. One of jesters has a lute, the other has a flute. The jester with the flute also has a goblet of wine, and trips over the first jester’s bowl, spilling his wine on himself and staining his costume.
“Robert,” sighs the first jester in mock exasperation, then giving a small chuckle.
“What? You threw that bowl onto the floor in the first place, didn’t you, Gilbert?” asks the jester that must be Robert.
“Yes; the cook hit me with his rolling pin!” exclaims Gilbert.
“You stole left-over soup again, didn’t you?” Robert inquires.
“No,” Gilbert lies, taking the flute from Robert.
“There’s soup on your clothes,” counters Robert, snatching the flute back, and Gilbert grabs the flute and begins to play a merry tune.
“What’s going on? This isn’t the song we were going to play,” complains the other jester.
“Just go along with it, Julian. I want to see what rhymes Robert can come up with tonight. We’ll sing the other song another time,” explains Gilbert. Julian begins to play the tune on his lute, and for a moment Robert stands still in thought while the other jesters play their instruments before singing.

Once there was a jester
who stole some soup
and as the cook did swoop
he spilled it on his clothes.
Then we came in upon the scene
and walked up to the Queen.
But he had thrown his bowl
and I tripped and spilled my wine.
Oh, he is a swine!
He always steals soup,
then spills it as the cook does swoop!

Everyone erupts into laughter as Robert bows.

“Someone throw me some tomatoes!” Julian calls. One of the cook’s servants comes out and throws them to the jester, who promptly begins to juggle them. Robert and Gilbert begin tumbling about and jumping backwards through the air. Robert jumps and lands on his hands, upside-down, and then Gilbert leaps over Robert as he begins to crumple down. Although this is amazing, I can’t help but turn to watch Julian as continues to juggle the tomatoes as he walks back towards the other jesters who are next to each other on their hands and knees. Julian climbs up onto them, kneeling only on his knees as he somehow continues to juggle. Then, throwing all the tomatoes up, he faces the roof and lets the tomatoes to splat onto his face. Everyone claps, and after climbing down from their pyramid, the jesters bow.
“Thank you. Now, I believe, your second course will begin,” Gilbert says as the cook’s servants come in once again, bearing silver and gold platters covered in meats.

I recognise a peacock, wild boar, chicken, and a cod on the plates. Once again, everyone waits for me before digging in. I put a slice of the nearest meat onto my plate and eat, then when I finish that, I progressively eat one piece of each meat as I fill then empty my plate. As well as the other things I recognised, there’s beef, veal, venison, mutton, lamb, salmon, and pike.

Just as I begin to feel too full, the second course is ended by the sound of two doors opening. The emptied plates are taken back to the kitchens, and a poet and minstrel come in the other door. The poet is Francis, who is dressed in a tunic and a thin cloak, and the minstrel is Julian, whose face has been cleaned from the tomatoes and who is dressed in a tunic with a vest over it. Julian stands along the far wall and begins to play on his lute.

“A bird first told me this tale; an eagle who could dive down to the earth, truer to its target than the truest arrow. There was a great Mytha amongst the Mythali who helped in the Serpent War, who it was said was the son of dragons, he was so like a dragon in appearance despite the fact that the Mytha’s Spell was already long lost by this time. For him to have so many gifts and abilities was astonishing in itself. This Mytha’s name was Drayce. It’s said that his greatest achievement was when he killed his third and last hydra.”
This is the tale you will hear tonight, and it begins when one of the hydras challenged Drayce to fight without his fire. This is because he had learnt how to defend himself from attacks with his own fire, and use his flames almost like a sword. Of course Drayce, being an honourable and brave Mytha, accepted the challenge. The fight began, and Drayce use his long talons as he would a sword, fending off the hydra’s own swipes. This went on for a while, then suddenly Drayce chopped off two of the heads, leaving one head. The last head was the hardest to be rid of, since it was both seething in anger and the one that was able to spit acid. Drayce’s right wing and arm was half burned by the acid, and his friends feared that he would be defeated and they would lose a valuable Mytha. However, Drayce had a dagger strapped to his tail, which he threw into the hydra’s heart with unnerving accuracy. Finally the hydra lay dead before him, and Drayce staggered back to his comrades. No-one saw or heard of Drayce after that, and though some say they saw a dragon carrying another dragon north, no-one knows for sure what happened,” Francis recites. Julian finishes playing on his lute, and servants come in again with platters of sweetmeats, cakes, candied fruits and nuts, and cheeses.

Again, I take the first bite before everyone else begins, but I’m getting used to it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cake before. There’s candied chestnuts and apricots that I recognise, berry and lemon tarts with jugs of custard to pour over the tarts, sweet pies that are – most of the time – filled with apple and cinnamon. I’m content just to stick to one piece of cake and make it last until the end of the banquet, but I want to try some of everything new. When I begin to feel full again, I fill my plate with a dozen candied chestnuts and some cheese, then wait until the meal ends. Was it really only today that I was crowned? So much has happened since this morning.

“Morning, Ridzohold,” I greet the Elekkan King, then step onto the dais and sit on my throne to hold my first council.
“Good morning, Queen Ember,” he replies, and I think it strange that I drop the ‘king’ part of his name and simply call him Ridzohold while he refers to me with my full title. The old King Lance had advisors that will need to swear fealty to me. I also have to go over the current laws and check if I want to get rid of any. After council is lunch, then my lesson with Francis. The Elekkans are continuing north six days from now, leaving two hundred behind as a small army to protect Feydel. One of the men beneath General Minfor will be their captain.

Ridzohold has left, and it’s strange how the castle is emptier and less seats are taken at dinner. We had a feast last night, and the Elekkan wished me luck and a peaceful reign then I wished him successful endeavours in return. The soldiers he gave me are settled in the barracks, and their captain in a man called Snastorn.

“Your Majesty, a lady has requested a private audience with you,” one of my advisors informs me as he leaves. Council has just finished, and the advisor is the last to leave.
“Let her in,” I sigh, sitting back into my throne as he opens the doors.
“Your Royal Highness,” the woman sinks into a deep curtsey. She looks and sounds a little familiar, but the memory has vanished and I don’t know who she is.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Crystal-Flame, but just call me Crystal,” she answers, and the name is one I am accustomed to. I wonder why I would know her. She’s clearly a Mytha, but I’ve never seen her when I was guarding.
“And why did you ask to see me?”
“I just wanted to ask, uh… why, why did you betray your own kind to become Queen? King Lance was a good king, and I know you’re not evil.” Crystal is nervous, and she knows that what she’s saying could be said as treason. Why would she risk her life to ask such a question? Why does she think she would be safe? Why does she seem to know me personally? I hesitate a moment before replying.
“What kind of question is that?” I scoff. It’s nothing private, nothing needing a private audience.
“I only want to know. You’re not evil, or at least you weren’t two months ago, and I can’t figure out what would drive you to betray the Mythali.”
“Who are you that you know me? Are you actually daring to say I’m evil?!” I stand and walk down to Crystal.
“No! I wouldn’t dare. But please, when will you answer my question?” she begs.
“When will you answer mine? Who are you?” I retort.
“I’m Crystal-Flame, a dragon Mytha,” Crystal answers, but I don’t care. I call in the guards to take her down to the dungeons as she cries something, but I leave the throne room before I hear it.

I trudge up to my room with my mind in turmoil. A moment after I enter my room, I hear a knock. Opening the door, I see Willow and Liza.
“Are you alright?” Willow asks.
“Yeah,” I mumble.
“No, you’re not. You’re all flustered. What happened?” Liza cocks her head at me.
“Someone asked for a private audience, and basically told me that I was evil to betray my friends and own kind. I don’t remember ever doing anything of the sort though,” I answer.
“Why don’t you come out to the gardens with us for a while to calm down?” invites Liza, and we walk down to the gardens.

There’s a breeze that tosses my mahogany hair that, now I ponder it, strangely still sits on my head despite my skin having turned to gold scales. There’s so many flowers decorating the landscape about me that, although I’ve come here many times, I still am astounded by the wondrous perfumes that fill the air. Roses, tulips, and lavender bushes line most of the paths. Sometimes the flowers are changed to gardenias, orchids, and carnations. Sometimes hedges line the paths to give a safe yet winding feel, almost like a maze. Aspens and birches are scattered throughout the gardens, with stone benches beneath them. Jasmine hangs on the branches of some trees. The topiary is amazing; each hedge is cut into a wondrous shape or creature. Statues of all kinds of woodfolk are sprinkled across the landscape. There’s fauns, centaurs, faeries, and unicorns. I’ve calmed down, so much so that it’s hard to remember why I would get angry.

“You can go now Queen Ember,” Francis says.
“Thank you,” I reply and stand to leave the schoolroom.
“Oh! I almost forgot. I was told to give this letter to you,” Francis pulls an envelope from his pocket and hands it to me. “See you tomorrow.” I hurry up to my room, thinking it best to open the letter there. I pull the letter dagger from my desk and open the envelope. Sliding the parchment out and unfolding it, I set it on the desktop and read it. No! I read it again. It can’t be true. I’ve broken a promise I forgot I made, and I’ve become Queen by betraying my friends. Ridzohold has conquered Dawnhold, and is King of Wyvernfort and Flaimebaen. He’s now King Ridzohold Yaenkun, and I made no move to stop him because he first moved me out of the way. Who was that lady that asked why I betrayed the Mythali? Oh I recognise her now! She’s my mum! Oh… I had forgotten I was a Mytha and I had forgotten Moon and Jay and the other Mythali. Where’s Stargazer? In the dungeons, and I think my mum is in the same cell. I am still shocked, but now it is mixed with panic and an angry energy. I shiver, then sit back for a moment to try to plan what to do now. Where’d Gryphon take the Mythali when I sent them from battle? I need to meet up with them and explain what I’ve done, plead for forgiveness, beg for help. But I can’t show the people in the castle see what I’m thinking. It didn’t matter before when Stargazer knew, but Ridzohold will surely have someone watching although he trusts me. Breathing slowly and deeply, I calm down from my initial panic and focus on making my face set like stone so no-one can ever see my plans. Dinner will be soon, and even though I don’t feel all that hungry, I must eat or someone will be suspicious.

I plan when I wander my halls, as I eat, and in every moment I have spare. I have to find the Mythali because I can’t just travel north and expect to defeat Ridzohold by myself. I’ll go to Sylva’s cave and hope that they’re there. If they’re not then I will explain and ask her to help me find them. The problem will be finding time to fly over there. I have heaps of time, but people will ask after me and spark worry and confusion. Actually… what happens when a ruler is kidnapped? Everyone looks for them, which is bad if they ran away on purpose, but I suppose I’ll need to disguise myself when I get to Flaimebaen anyway. That’s sorted then. I run tomorrow at the earliest hour I wake at.

The beginning of dawn peaks through the gap in the curtains, trying to seep through the thick material. I somehow managed to keep my uniform, so I dig it out and dress, bundling my two simplest outfits into a bag. I kept some cheese from dinner last night, so that goes into the bag as well. Then I’m ready. Out onto the balcony I pad and take flight wheeling north-west and soaring to the caves. It’s a foggy morning, but I fly above the clouds for extra cover.

I dive and land on Sylva’s ledge. The dragon turns her head and stares at me, realising who she’s looking at, glaring.
“The Mythali say you betrayed them. What are you doing here?” she demands. She’s closed to me, a heavy stone door, and rightfully so.
“Can I explain once to everyone?” I ask. Sylva rolls her eyes but moves aside to let me in.
“Ember?” I hear Moon’s voice from the back of the cavern. It’s been too long since I heard her, and since I saw any of my kind.
“What’s she doing here?” the relative quietness explodes into roaring anger and panic.
“Oh, calm down, the lot of you!” Sylva exclaims, and the shouts dwindle to murmurs. “Give Ember a chance to speak.”

“As you all know, I was kidnapped by Ridzohold in our first battle against the Elekkans. He promised that he could make me Queen. I vowed that I wouldn’t let him take Flaimebaen, because the King of that land is kind walks through the streets unguarded. In the next battle, he sent me a bracelet. It must have a spell on it, which I’ll explain in a moment,” I say, then ask, “Is Aisling here?”
“Yeah, why?” she inquires.
“Remember when you were trying to figure out what I was dreaming the night after I returned from being kidnapped?”
“That was your turning point.”
“Yes; when I put on the bracelet it filled my head with wanting to become Queen.” I pause a moment to let Stargazer say what I know is coming, but he’s not here. “I forgot to get Stargazer!”
“It’ll be safe for you to return today. Everyone will assume you just went somewhere for the morning. Quickly!” Silva urges, so I dump my bag and take flight, hurrying back to the castle. How could I forget Stargazer after I planned how to rescue him and my mum?

“Queen Ember? Are you in there?” Snapdragon peaks through my door just as I land.
“Yes, come in,” I smile, sitting on my bed.
“Everyone’s been looking for you. You missed breakfast,” Snapdragon says, coming into the room.
“Oh. I had a little adventure this morning, out at the mountains.”
“Really? Tell me about it!”
“If I do then you mustn’t tell anyone, not even Alice,” I reply.
“I won’t tell anyone. I won’t even think about it!” Snapdragon promises, and I laugh quietly at her eagerness.

“Alright. Now come close. King Ridzohold promised I could become Queen if I betrayed my friends, and gave me my bracelet. It has a spell on it, but that’s been broken now. If it weren’t broken then I wouldn’t remember any of my friends and my betrayal, but I know now.”
“What happened to break the spell?” my little maid-in-waiting looks up me with the most curious look painted on her face.
“I vowed that he wouldn’t take Flaimebaen, the kingdom directly north from here, but he gave me the bracelet and I eventually became Queen,” I answer.
“But you’re a good Queen. You’re not evil,” Snapdragon whispers.
“Aren’t I? You might change your mind later,” I sigh, “Yesterday King Ridzohold sent me a letter to tell me he had conquered Dawnhold, the capital of Flaimebaen. I’ve broken my vow because I let him make me forget it. The letter made me remember what happened before I was Queen Ember.”
“You did seem a bit odd last night.”
“This morning I went out to find my friends. I sent them away from the battle so that they couldn’t get hurt, and they ran to my dragon friend’s home in the mountains. I started telling them what’s happening, but I forgot to rescue our captain and my mum.”
“From where?”
“The dungeons.”
“You put your mum in the dungeons?!”
“Remember, I’d forgotten everything except that I was Queen.”
“Can I help?” Snapdragon asks, and I stop to look at her.
“What? You want to help me rescue Stargazer and my mum?” I ask.
“Yes,” Snapdragon makes a face that says ‘didn’t you expect that?’. “And can I come north with you?”
“I wouldn’t leave you behind,” I smile. Snapdragon is like a little sister to me. I tell her how we’re going to rescue Stargazer and Mum. Then we pretend the conversation never happened and return to what would be a normal day except for my morning and thoughts.

A light tap on my door wakes me. Snapdragon pads into my room and I dress in my old uniform again. We sneak through the halls and corridors down to the dungeons. We knock the guard out and continue past. I’ll use my talons to pick the lock. Creeping further down into the damp darkness, we check every cell for Stargazer and Mum. At last we find them, and I let them out.
“What are you doing, Ember?” Stargazer asks.
“Getting away from here. You’ll understand in an hour or so,” I answer, gesturing for them to follow us. Back up to my room we silently hurry. I have to ferry the three over to Sylva’s cave, and even though it’s the middle of the night, I want everyone there by dawn. I take Mum first, with Stargazer and Snapdragon hiding in my room.

I drop my mum on the ledge and soar back for Stargazer. I meet Sylva halfway, and transfer Stargazer to her back, then repeat with Snapdragon. A moment after I sink to the cold stone floor, the sun begins to rise. The Mythali are asking Stargazer how he’s been, asking what’s happened since I kidnapped him. Guilt rises in my throat like bile, but at least he was safe. When he says he had thought he might starve, I choke. How much food did I order for him to be given? I don’t remember, so maybe Ridzohold did that and planned to kill him slowly.

“Hi Crystal-Flame,” Moon waves.
“Good morning,” she replies.
“Is it only good? For you, it would be great. Or maybe we should still be sceptical of the Queen,” Moon sighs, unaware that I have nothing better to do than eavesdrop. “Ember, who’s the little girl?”
“This is Snapdragon. she’s one of my maids-in-waiting,” I answer.
“And you brought her why? She could be a spy!” Jay says. I suppose it would be right for him to be suspicious. His being a bird Mytha also means that he knows how words can get out.
“Does she honestly look old enough?” I counter, and the conversation is left there.

“Someone tell me the Mytha’s Spell is here,” says Stargazer, and I know that he was be panicking if the Mythali left it at the barracks.
“It’s here,” Moon stands in shadow, holding a bundle of cloth with Bludtooth by her side. I remember that the mad wolf has Moon as his captive. Bludtooth glares at me, and Moon is unaware of the wolf’s mood. She seems used to Bludtooth’s presence, as though he were Fierstorrm. Everything has changed so much why I played at being Queen. The war seems like it was only a week ago because of the emptiness of my days and me forgetting everything because of my bracelet.
“You didn’t finish telling us what happened with the bracelet,” Celosia reminds, so I explain the bracelet and Ridzohold’s letter. Then I give a rough guide on what I think we should do, but nothing more and then sit down to let Stargazer speak. I’ve had enough of being in control.

The plan is to travel north through the marshes and into Flaimebaen. We’ll find somewhere safe to set up a camp until we can attack. Mythali with illusion powers will disguise people whose features can’t be hidden while we find out where King Morgan the Starhearted is and recruit people to help us. There’s only about twenty Mythali here, and the recruits will have to be trained. Moon, Bludtooth, Jay, and I will get King Morgan and bring him to our camp. We’ll rise against Ridzohold and restore the throne to King Morgan.

My stupid bracelet is the start of this. It will take a year, probably five, until Ridzohold is dead and King Morgan reigns again. Why did I even want to become Feydel’s queen in the first place? I’d never wanted it before the war. I must be tired; I can’t keep a train of thought for long before my mind wanders. It’s weird that I call Ridzohold simply that, but King Morgan the Starhearted that. Maybe it’s because I see Ridzohold as not really deserving his title of King Ridzohold Yaenkun. That sounds funny after a year (or I think it’s been a year) of calling him only by his first name.

Morning comes and we all climb down into the forest that I once knew so well. Moon howls, and Bludtooth makes a sound that resembles a grumble.
“Did you think I would leave my pack here?” Moon asks the wolf as her pack appears on our path and our two groups merge.
“Fierstorrm!” exclaims Moon, and the young wolf offers a sharp-toothed attempt at a grin in return.

Even though it’s impossible to know if anyone is looking outside of Feydel for me, we don’t light any fires for dinner. We all get a piece of the cheese I brought, and whatever we could find in the forest. The fare is meagre and the meal is awkward, at least for me. Just as I once knew this forest, I once knew the Mythali and Sylvahorn, but during my reign they’ve grown cold towards me. I betrayed them, so they should avoid me, but we have to work together. Yet at the same time, they don’t have to be here; they don’t have to help me. This is my own battle: I vowed that I wouldn’t let Flaimebaen be conquered and I let it get broken, not them. Do they want to be here, or would they prefer to be back at Sylva’s cave where they’re safe?

“Hey, Ember,” call Celosia, moving towards me as she finishes her food. “I’ve been trying to find a chance to ask you something.”
“Go on,” I give an encouraging nod, taking another bite of my food.
“Did you see Ash after we all left with Gryphon?”
“Yes,” tears pool up in my eyes, beginning to trickle down in guilt and shame, “I fought her.”
“Did she stand her ground like the warrior she is?”
“More than I can. All I can do is hope I can restore my honour and I’d hoped you wouldn’t ask about Ash.”
“What happened?” Celosia urges as overwhelming sorrow forces me to choke on tears.
“I was distracting each Mytha until an Elekkan killed them, but I got carried away and- and- I…”
“Are you alright?” Moon asks, looking over at my tear-stained face.
“Stop asking me that! Why does everyone ask? No I’m not alright!” I cry. Moon looks away.
“What did you do?” Celosia whispers, almost too scared to ask. I can tell she’s pushing down her instinct that wants to ask if I’m alright, but after that burst no-one will dare.
“I’m so sorry. I killed Ash. She died at my own sword!” I sob. A gust of cold wind rustles the trees and brings a whisper ‘are you sure?’ Of course I’m sure. Celosia must have heard it because I can see hope painting her face even though she tries to hide it, not wanting to be disappointed.

Another day in the forest, trampling bushes and grass, and for me it’s another lonely day of wondering. Wondering about the Orb, about how the Mythali have survived, about Dawnhold and Ridzohold, to scared to ponder aloud. Only Moon, Celosia, Stargazer, Mum, and Snapdragon aren’t entirely stone towards me, but they really should be and I also don’t feel like talking to them today. The voices just become another droning sound, blending in with the wind, insects, and walking feet. How can travelling be so lonely with so many people? I know I can’t defeat Ridzohold by myself, but they’re so icy, although I can see they try not to be, that I might as well be alone. Would it be easier to live with a broken vow in the castle than unbreak it with friends I betrayed? In the castle, everything is easy and you don’t have to wonder how much food you’ll get.

The sun rises into a pinkened sky across the marsh. We camped on the edge of the forest and the marshes, and today we’ll cross it. I’ve never really seen the marsh, even when I looked down from Sylva’s back. I always thought marshes were dull, grey-green, relatively flat and full of pools of muddy brown water, more like a brook than anything else. It’s actually quite green and there’s plenty of cattails blocking my view. We step out onto the soggy soil in bare feet, since our shoes will be ruined with all the mud. I scrunch up my face and cringe at the first step, but then as I walk I get used to the coldness and squishiness of it all and begin to enjoy squeezing my toes into the mud and leaping over the tough grasses. I’m a little separated from the group, but I look up every now and then to check my direction. It’s better than enduring another day of silent treatment, and I can enjoy myself here. How did I never come here to make worms of mud with my toes? I can’t really believe that I, once Queen Ember (I’m still Queen Ember but no longer acting as though the title is mine, and running away from it too) is jumping about in a muddy wasteland. I imagine Ridzohold’s face if he were to see me now, seeing his disgust and disapproval, then am reminded of his trickery and turn my thoughts from the Elekkan back to where I should jump next.

There’s no dry wood to build a campfire with, and no dry place to put it either. My day of splashing about has coated my legs with cold sticky mud, but there’s no real need to get it off. There’s enough insects and other things to eat, and then we find the driest place to sleep. The light is fading fast, so we end up piling atop the grasses, bending the reeds down and sitting on them. Now it’s fully dark, and the stars are shining with the crescent moon. I remember the tale from the first book I read, how the fairies danced all day and then unicorns took them into the forest to sleep beneath a moonless sky as owls patrolled. Rolling over, I find myself face to face with Fierstorrm. The wolf has come to keep me warm. Years spent around Moon has tamed him a little, and he always knew how to read people. Fierstorrm curls up at my head, and I fall asleep to his body rising and falling as he breathes, and the rhythmic movements of my arm as I pat him.

I can’t be bothered to jump today, so I trudge along the edge of the riverbed. The tide of the sea has emptied the streams to half-full, and I didn’t notice the tide yesterday. The Mythali seem to follow my lead and walk along the same riverbed, but I’m in front for some reason. I betrayed them! They should make me the last in our ‘pack’. Stargazer should be in front! Then I hear fast footsteps, and Moon and Snapdragon are beside me.

“What are you doing?” I ask.
“How are you?” Moon replies, being courteous and not actually interested in my answer.
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Yesterday we decided that you are our leader,” I open my mouth to object, but Moon puts her hand on my shoulder to stop me, “Yes, you betrayed us. But you don’t want Morgan the Starhearted’s kingdom to be taken from him, and neither do we. This isn’t about a broken vow now, it’s about a good king who could be dead. Did you think we would let you do this by yourself, against Ridzohold, who is a half-elf with magic?”
“I killed Ash! You should despise me!” I exclaim, but no, despise is not enough. “You should hate me!”
“But we don’t! So just accept that you are our leader, Queen Ember. Have you really been drowning in your guilt so much that you forgot how much of an amazing Mytha you are?” asks Snapdragon, and I turn to look at her in astonishment.
“You have gold scales, indigo flames, and wings! Wings, Ember! Who else has wings?”
“My dad did. And flames, and scales, and spines, and a tail! If he were here, he would be so disappointed in me. He fought in the Serpent War, and here I am fighting over who should lead us since I don’t think I should, having betrayed you!”
“The Serpent War? Wow… Ember, leading us to restore Morgan’s kingdom is a noble cause. Besides, Stargazer might have had enough of being captain for a while.” I frown, knowing that Stargazer must feel as though if he were captain of us again I would ruin everything. Maybe he feels guilty about that.
“Fine,” I sigh.

I look away from Snapdragon, facing straight ahead. The marsh ends and dissolves into ocean, and I can see a city across from a huge mouth of a river. I never knew we were this close to Dawnhold all this time. There was a border, and a forest and a marsh between us, not to mention the sea.
“How are we going to get over there?” I ask.
“How long will it take for you to ferry us?” Moon replies, and I look up at the sun.
“It’ll take about an hour, maybe two. But shouldn’t we disguise ourselves so if the Elekkans see us they won’t recognise us?”
“Yeah. I’ll go find Maya.” Maya has illusion abilities.
“Wait, she’s here?”
“She was with Oakia, and Gryphon saw no reason to leave her. Have you really not actually checked who’s here and who’s not? You told Gryphon to get your friends. As if he knows who they are, and besides, if someone’s not your friend here then they have useful powers,” Moon shrugs, walking away to get Maya. Realising that we should also be invisible for today, I also walk off, looking for Aisling since she’s in the sight division and will know who to look for.

I stand invisible in front of an invisible line of Mythali, all with an illusion spell on us.
“First crosser?” I say, because I can’t see anyone.
“That’s me,” says Jay, and I hear footsteps coming towards me. Picking him up, we take flight and then we land as soon as we rose. Back over the river I go to pick up a new passenger. It’s Snapdragon.
“Hello again,” she says.
“Hello. Have you touched the Orb, or are you not allowed?”
“I never asked.” We’re across now, so I put Snapdragon down and she slips onto the ground. When I’m ferrying Stargazer, I ask if Snapdragon can tough the Orb, and he says she can. It’s weird that I once flew him to captivity, and now I am flying him to war. Is this safer than his captivity? I hope I can fly him to safety at some point.

Everyone’s on the north side of the river now, and I can feel dread creeping in the tiny cracks in my defensive mind wall, because the war is officially on as far as I’m concerned. The dread will fill me eventually, and I’ll have to fight it to keep going. Despite this, I am looking forward to getting revenge on Ridzohold for making me forget. I realise another reason to be angry at the Elekkan is that he made me forget my past. I forgot my friends, who I was, and shaped me to his will. I was only Queen Ember, not the warrior I am, or was.

“Keep quiet and keep going North. Once you’re past the city, try and find the rest of us,” I say, and murmurs of assent rise into the air. “Find someone to stick to and go.” Someone grabs my hand after a moment, whispering that why don’t I just fly over. I grab whoever it is and take flight. The body is light and familiar, though it has become unfamiliar and it has grown.
“Scarlet!” I gasp.
“Yes. When Mum decided to go ask you why you betrayed the Mythali, she said that if she didn’t return or was arrested that Moon’s mum would take care of me. She took us to Sylvahorn’s cave, and we found your friends there,” my little sister explains.
“I’m sorry for, well, everything,” I say.
“Oh, well your still my sister,” Scarlet replies.
“But that doesn’t lessen my evil, does it.”
“I suppose not. And aren’t we past the city now?” I begin to descend, and then we land with a jolt and sit beneath a tree.

“Flaming,” I whisper, and no-one replies, so I try something else, “Flying. Seeing. Running. Speaking.”
“Flaming and seeing,” replies a voice that I’m sure is Ash’s, so that must be Celosia.
“Flying and running,” answers Jay.
“What…?” asks Scarlet.
“It’s a Mythali thing; we use it when we need to see if someone is near. Mostly we use our own division’s word, but if we need to check for others then we can use what we know to call. It also says a bit of who you are, so if you’re hidden then people know,” I smile, then remember we’re invisible. But then we’re not, and I can see how we’ve been disguised. Aisling is with Celosia, but when I look around, it’s Snapdragon with Aisling. I frown. Jay and Mehira are standing a little way away as well. I really needed to check who was here: I didn’t realise Mehira was with us.

“Can I just get everyone in a line? I need to know who’s here,” I say, and they all organise themselves. I look at each and try to identify them, but some are too well disguised for me to discern them. Moon, Mum, Scarlet, Stargazer, Jay, Celosia, and Snapdragon are the ones I recognise easily. Simple things like ears being hidden or clothing style being changed are all that is different. When I look closely, I can pick out Gryphon, Mehira, Aisling, Emma, and Coralia. I have to ask three who they are: Oakia, Maya, and Arny. The rest is the wolf pack with Fierstorrm and Bludtooth. Then there’s me. My mahogany hair is disguised as brown, my gold scales look like tanned skin, and my wings are invisible. I’d forgotten about them, and they’re covered in mud besides, so I’ll have to ask Jay how to clean them. I won’t be able to go into the city because of my wings, since someone could bump into them and damage them.

We continue a little way north then stop and find a clearing in a forest to make our home for the next few weeks or months or years. It had better not be more than three months; I’m itching to get revenge on Ridzohold. That dislike and regret at putting on the bracelet has turned to a want to disrupt him and put him in his place, and then turned into a need to end him and all his evil. But I shouldn’t continue to think about him, I need to focus. The hate will cloud my judgement and make me reckless in the battles to come. I don’t need to break my friends’ trust just when I’ve built it again, though it’s only small.

Everyone is settled and dinner is being prepared. They’re already mostly together but I call them anyway.
“We need to look for King Morgan. Any volunteers?” I ask. Stargazer, Jay, Mehira, Celosia, Aisling, and Arny strike the air with their hands.
“Alright, you can go. Anyone who wants to look for recruits? We can’t do this ourselves” Mum, Snapdragon, Coralia, and Gryphon stretch their arms into the air and the searchers with them.
“You can all do both, except I don’t want Snapdragon to go. Tomorrow you’ll go into the city in pairs and stay there in inns, returning here to report and bring recruits once every two weeks,” I say, and Snapdragon frowns but resigns herself to staying in the camp. I don’t want Mum to go either, but I know she won’t listen to me.

Tomorrow the war begins, though hushed and not really a war yet. I wonder how many recruits there’ll be, and what we’ll do if children are brought for safety or with parents. I’ve been protecting Feydel since I was twelve, so I am always looking for what needs protecting. I don’t want to see little children being killed. And I’ve found yet another reason to stop Ridzohold.
But it’s getting late and the sun set long ago, so I bundle myself in my sleeping furs and drift into the realm of dreams.

The party of Mythali going into Dawnhold eat breakfast early, then pack up their things. It will be a few days before we’ll see any of them again.
“Take care,” I say, drawing Mum into a last hug. Next time, we’ll see each others as allies in war; me still feeling as though I’m an outcast and her worrying for her life inside the city, both of us warriors and Mythali.
“You too. And take care of Scarlet,” she whispers.
“I will,” I reply, and let her go, turning and finding Jay ready to say something.
“You aren’t as much as an outcast as you think,” the bird Mytha says. “You’re my friend, even after betraying us, even though we seem too icy. Don’t get caught out here in the open, and if Moon says something then listen and obey. She’s usually right about stuff.” I nod, and then they’re walking away. I am left standing in their wake, then I turn and face the others. There’s Snapdragon, Scarlet, Moon, Emma, Oakia, Maya, Bludtooth, Fierstorrm, and the wolves. Seven Mythali and too many wolves that I’m not bothered to count. They can’t do much besides warn us against intruders, but maybe Moon has a use for them.

We need to make this camp safer and more hidden, we need to organise how to run things, we need to have an idea of what we’re going to do when we finally rise against the Elekkans. I need to step back and rest for a while, let it sink in that I’m not really the fighter that sat in Sylva’s cave carving and waiting for Moon’s return any more. I’m a leader, and I need to keep us safe. Sighing, I decide to go and forage for food.

Jay is the first to return, with no news. He stays the night and returns to the city the next day. Two days later, Gryphon comes, with no news, and then a few days more and it’s Celosia’s turn. Everyone returns, stays the night, and goes back into the city to their partner. Nothing happens for a month. But then Aisling brings a girl about the same age as me. She’s told the Mythali in the city what the girl knows, and she’s come here as a recruit.
“Her father has already been taken by that half-elf,” explains Aisling, “But I’ll let her tell the story. Go, Eden. You’re safe here and Ember’ll teach you to be a warrior. Bye.” With that, Aisling is gone. I beckon to Eden and sit on the ground. She sits beside me, and picks up sticks and leaves, pulling thread and a knife from her pocket.

“My name is Eden. My mother was taking me to see my father for the first time, since they lived apart; my mother couldn’t deal with where my father lived. We were travelling through the Bandit Mountains, and of we were attacked. The bandits surrounded us, aiming their bows at us. My mother whispered for me to run, that I’d see my father one day. I ran out of the mountains and slept. My mother was dead, and I had no-where to go. I was seven years old.
A traveller who had managed to pass through the mountains unscathed took me with her. She offered for me to come with her, and I accepted. I lived with her until I was ten, then I decided her town was not what I could get used to, so I moved back to my town. Of course, I wasn’t young enough to become an apprentice of any kind, and nearly everyone I knew had moved away, replaced by others. One woman had stayed, and she helped me make a living by making trinkets and such at the markets. Her name is Liza,” Eden says.
“Why didn’t she let you live with her?” I ask, watching her fingers move quickly about whatever she’s making.
“Because the laws of Wyvernfort say you must adopt the said child to let them live with you,” replies Eden.
“So you lived in Wyvernfort.”
“Yes. We were crossing into Flaimebaen to visit my father, but of course never made it there. Anyway, I made a friend in a little girl called Milly. Her mother, Alyssa, also helped me. They went to visit cousins in Dawnhold, and met King Morgan the Starhearted. I suppose you know that he walks through the streets unguarded?”
“Yes, and his capture is why I’m here, but I can tell that story later,” I say, and Eden looks up for a moment, smiling at me.

“Anyway, Milly and Alyssa began talking about me, and Morgan wanted to see me, so he came with them back to my town, and I saw him. He took me to a quiet place and said that he is my father,” Eden’s eyes light up at the memory, then darken at the next. “We went to Dawnhold, and the Elekkans were there. They captured Morgan and put him into the dungeons of his own castle. I had not even a month with him.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, and Eden looks at me.
“You can’t think it’s your fault, Ember,” she sighs.
“But I let Ridzohold trick me into wanting to become Queen. I vowed that I wouldn’t let him take Flaimebaen, yet here I am hiding in a forest until I can kill him and give the kingdom back to Morgan,” I reply.
“Well, just like you’re going to help me get my father back, I’ll help you keep your vow,” Eden promises.
“Alright,” I give in to her. She begins to pack away her things, and shows me what she made. It’s a little dragon made of sticks tied together with thread, and the scales are shreds of leaves sewn together like a little coat and attached to the sticks. It’s beautiful, and I tell her so. She simply smiles and says that she spends her life making such things, and she can make many more to get money to buy what we’ll need out here in the forest.

“So, you’ll teach me to be warrior?” says Eden as she comes up to me.
“Yes. I suppose we could all do with some practice,” I reply, and pack away my stuff then call the Mythali. They gather into a group.
“We need to practice our skills. Get your weapons, and one for Eden, Scarlet, Snapdragon, and me,” I say. Everyone disperses and grabs their weapons and returns. Eden is given a sword, and so am I. I teach her how to hold it and swing it without weakening her grip or dropping it. She learns how to stand, how to shift her feet, the beginnings of all the footwork a sword user must know, how to keep a clear mind. Only when I feel she can handle that do I begin to teach her the attacks and defences. Eden slowly becomes as good as me with a sword, so we spar and sometimes she wins. Teaching her kept my thoughts off Ridzohold and on teaching newcomers. When Stargazer visits from the city, he tells me how good my students are. I ask if they can touch the Orb, and he says they can.

“Eden, do you want to become a Mytha?” I ask the young warrior.
“No, becoming a Mytha will change who I am. I think many others here will say the same,” she replies, and when I ask the others I find that she’s right. But even Snapdragon refuses the offer, and she grew up in Feydel surrounded by Mythali. But I suppose they would be different if they were Mythali and not normal humans. I wonder what kind of a person I would be if I weren’t a Mytha, and then I think that none of this mess would be happening. But I can’t change that, so even though it causes me to doubt, I push through and begin to plan our attack with the information the Mythali in the city have given me. They only serve as rebels collecting recruits since we have Eden and we know that Morgan is in his dungeons.

The next time a Mytha comes out, it’s Mum. She has brought six people; three adults and three children. Eden races over to hug each when she sees them, explaining that they are Alyssa and Milly, and Jasper and Chloe with their parents. They’re Milly’s cousins. Mum tells me that the Mythali are ready, so I should start planning. Eden helps me plan her father’s rescue, and within the next two weeks, we feel ready to really begin the war. The Dawnholders have become warriors, and each of us are getting restless. I send everyone in small groups into to city, more and more each day. Eden, Snapdragon, and Alyssa are in my group. Every child that was brought to us is staying in the forest with Mum, Stargazer, and Jasper, Chloe, and their parents.

It’s been two years since I was in a city as a commoner, and I’m no longer accustomed to the bustling life I find about me. Most streets are filled, and Mum leads us to an inn and into a room where Stargazer, Moon, and Celosia are waiting. There are a few moments of warm welcome, then more icy talk of battle.
“Welcome, Ember. Are you prepared for our attack?” Stargazer asks. He’s changed, grown cautious from hiding from the Elekkans.
“Yes,” I answer. “Now let’s go over the plan. In three days from today, at midnight, Snapdragon, Eden, and I will go to the dungeons and rescue Morgan. At one, the rest of you attack the castle. Stargazer, Maya, and Mehira, you’re to open the portcullis. All of you need to advance deeper into the castle, and if any of you come upon Ridzohold and the chance to kill him, I give you leave to do so. However, if you can hold him until Eden or I come then please do so.”
“Sounds good,” Moon says, and then we have the three days to wait and steel ourselves to the destruction we will inevitably cause.

Cold moonlight drifts through the room, and I silently get ready for midnight. I slept throughout the day, and have only been awake for a few hours. I pace about in the room in my armour, dreading and hoping for midnight. We will rescue Morgan and restore his kingdom to him, and then face Ridzohold. Doubts slowly creep through my mind as I push them away. I shiver, with cold and fear, but I know I can do it. I’m a Mytha. I’m a dragon. I’ve been a queen. I’m a warrior. That’s all that matters. I will win against Ridzohold. I won’t let him become Yaenkun. Breathing in deeply for a moment to calm myself, I kneel by Celosia and shake her once.
“If it doesn’t go to plan, please know I didn’t mean to kill Ash,” I whisper to the sleeping Mytha.

Then the bells toll out twelve times, and I startle then run down the stairs and into the street with Moon, Snapdragon, and Eden following fast. We run as quietly as possible, not really letting our heels touch the ground. We soon reach the castle. Slipping into the shadows, we stand for a moment to catch our breath. Then we climb the wall. My feet find the barest foothold and my fingertips find the slightest handholds, and up I pull myself. Up and up, hoping I don’t slip, fingers letting go for a moment then continuing. At last we reach the battlements. We follow the stairs down into the courtyard, then through a door and down more stairs. Whenever we reach the end of a staircase, we find the next and continue down, sticking in the shadows and hiding when a soldier’s footsteps come.

Finally we reach the dungeons. It’s almost pitch black, so I let fire bubble into my mouth and use that as a torch. It’s been a while since I used my fire, or anything that makes me a Mytha. We search each cell. Most are empty, but a few have sleeping prisoners. I let Eden lead, and for a while we walk past the cells without stopping. Suddenly, she stops and looks at me. Her eyes are burning with a fierce anger. I pick the lock with my invisible talons that I’d forgotten about, and the door swings open.

The man inside has a kind face and black hair, and his eyes light up when he looks up. Despite this, I tremble. He slowly gets up and walks towards us. Eden stands for a moment, then walks towards him, and the two pull each other into an embrace.
“Thank you. I wondered how long I’d be in there. I assume from your fiery eyes that you will be fighting soon?” Morgan asks.
“Yes. I’m helping Ember keep her promise to that half-elf,” Eden says. Morgan looks at me.
“What promise?” he asks.
“I vowed that I wouldn’t let him take Flaimebaen. He came to Feydel, my home, and started a war. He captured me in the first battle and promised that he could make me Queen of Feydel but I refused. Eventually, somehow, he turned me to his plan and I became Queen with his help. I betrayed my friends and family. I was crowned and he left, heading north to Wyvernfort and Flaimebaen. My mother came and asked me why I betrayed the Mythali, and I accused her of treason. I had forgotten who I was, who she was, what had really happened. Ridzohold gave me a bracelet and I think it had a spell on it,” I explain.
“That’s not the bracelet there on your wrist, is it?” Morgan sighs, and I look down, sighing when I see the offensive beads adorning my wrist. I fling it off of myself, and Morgan picks it up.
“How did you break the spell?”
“Ridzohold sent a letter saying he had conquered your kingdom, and that broke the spell.”
“But you’re still under the spell. Don’t you still sometimes wonder if everything would be easier if you just went back to being queen?” I nod, ashamed.
“Come, I’ll need a weapon. I’ll take you to the armoury,” Morgan says, and leads us out of the dungeons.

Morgan takes a scabbard from its hook and wraps the belt around his waist, then takes a warhammer and places the bracelet on the floor. Crouching over, he lifts the hammer the brings it down, smashing the bracelet and the spell.
“Let’s go,” he says, and we follow him through the corridors. On we hurry and then we reach the courtyard. The moonlight shows us the Mythali fighting the Elekkans.
“Go help your own. You can’t win a war if you don’t fight it!” Morgan cries. I draw my sword and find an Elekkan to fight. My sword sings as I swing it around and into flesh. Again and again I swing it around, blocking swords and axes. Down and back up, I parry attacks, duck, defend and stab. it’s been so long since I danced in this strange way the sword demands you must. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. I inch my way to the door, and as soon as the next Elekkan I clash swords with is dead, I turn and run through, looking for Ridzohold. I end up in the armoury, Eden and Ridzohold are also there. The half-elf looks at me when I enter, as does Eden.

“Why does it seem that you two think you have to right to kill me? Aren’t there others who feel more entitled to the privilege?” he spits. Eden simply stands there, clearly confused as to how I can speak Elekkan.
“I think you’re very wrong. We are both who you have done the most wrong to,” I laugh.
“I’ve never seen either of you before,” Ridzohold replies, and just at that moment, Maya lifts the illusions. He pales slightly.
“How did you break the spell?” he asks.
“You did. You sent me a letter saying you had conquered Flaimebaen, and I remembered who I was and what I had done,” I answer.
“So then, Queen Ember,” he curls his mouth in mockery, “how would you like to have a duel?”
“I would relish it, and so would Eden, who is the daughter of King Morgan the Starhearted,” I say.
“He doesn’t have children,” Ridzohold frowns.
“No, but I am his nonetheless,” Eden replies, her voice as sharp as an axe. She draws her sword.
“Just because there are two of you doesn’t mean I am outnumbered. You are both children,” Ridzohold says, and I just laugh, circling around him. Eden closes in on him, pushing him over to the stairs.

We push him up the stairs, cutting him and stabbing him. By the time we reach the top, we have cut open his thigh. He clutches his leg and crumples down like an autumn leaf. Blood pools onto the floor as Eden and I step around him. We’ve won. I smile and break into a run, and I hear Eden coming after me. We twist and turn, and somehow end up back in the courtyard where the battle is also won. Half-elves lie dead on the ground, with only a couple of Mythali or Dawnholders here and there.

My joy turns on itself when I see that Stargazer is lying on the floor. He’s not dead, but needs help and fast. As I make my way to him, I step over Snapdragon. I stop, my heart sinks even lower, and tears begin to stain my face. I hold her up, and feel her burning skin. She looks lifeless, but isn’t cold. And how much she looks like Ash. It must be a flashback. I continue with my broken heart towards Stargazer, calling out for Emma. She comes quickly, and soon Stargazer is looking about him in wonder.
“Thank you,” he croaks.
“It’s alright,” I say, but it’s not, because Snapdragon is dead. The tears are falling now, and I can taste their saltiness on my lips.
“Why do you look so sad?” Stargazer asks.
“Why do I keep letting my friends die because I’m just in the wrong spot or doing my own thing? Why have I never fought for them since the Elekkans came? I’ve always been fighting for myself and my reasons,” I sob. A heat like a fire has been lit warms my back, and I turn around.
“Why is Snapdragon on fire?” I ask, terrified though I don’t know why. Someone moves towards her, and when I look I see that it’s Celosia.
“I don’t know,” Stargazer replies, but there’s a whisper of a smile on his face.

After a moment, the fire goes out and Snapdragon gets up. I gulp and shift back a little as she walks toward me. She looks exactly like Ash, and I can’t help but let the terror burn through my body like it’s tinder.
“What- who- how-” I shiver and swallow, so confused and petrified I can’t even get my tongue to obey me and chose the words I need to say. Snapdragon – or Ash, I don’t know at this point – stands still for a moment more.
“Ember, don’t be afraid. You don’t have to carry guilt on your shoulders any more,” she says.
“What’s going on?” I ask. “Who are you; Snapdragon or Ash?”
“Both. But I’m really Ash. You know that I’m a phoenix Mytha, but you forgot what powers the Orb gave me.”
“So after the battle when I betrayed you all, and after I saw you lying supposedly dead on the battlefield, you just burnt yourself up like you did now, and came to the castle?” I ask.
“Yes; Maya decided on that plan and disguised me,” Ash answers. We sit in the silence for a moment, with the sun’s rays just beginning to peak through the night.
“I like you better as Snapdragon. Is that alright?” I inquire.
“The sad thing is that I have to agree. I’ve gotten used to having no sister any more, but if you like, I can convince my mother to adopt you when we get back to Feydel,” Celosia says.
“Is that even possible? To adopt your own child, I mean?” I laugh.
“We’ll make it possible. Mother doesn’t have to know Snapdragon is Ash,” Celosia smiles.

I fly up into the sky and surround myself with fireballs to celebrate our victory. I know there’s still so much that must be done, but for now we can rest. I fly back down, and Emma asks me to take Stargazer out to the forest. I gladly do so, happy that I can fly him to a safe place after so many months of turmoil and danger. As I fly back to Dawnhold, quiet thunder seems to rumble behind me, but when I look behind I see no storm clouds. It’s a thunder that’s hard to distinguish from my own thunderous wings. I land on the battlements and call to Moon, Celosia, Snapdragon, and Eden to come up and look on all the land about us. They come up and lean over the merlons in the battlements, and we all laugh and talk of our victory. After a while, I hear the faint thunder again, and so do the others, since we all look to the horizon at about the same time. There’s a dragon coming towards us. We all point and stare, each asking the others why a dragon is coming. The dragon lands on the battlements just as I did only a little while ago, and I see it’s not a dragon but a dragon Mytha. The Mytha looks at us, wonder and hopeful joy swirling in his eyes.

“Since when did the Mytha’s Spell’s enchantment reach Dawnhold?” he asks, his voice almost familiar.
“It doesn’t. We came here to fight against the Elekkans. It’s a long story,” I say, and I can tell that my voice is almost familiar to him as well.
“Ember, introduce yourself, silly!” Snapdragon smiles.
“Well, I’m Ember, and this is Snapdragon. Then there’s Moon, Celosia, and Eden,” I say, gesturing to each. “And oh, I don’t know which question to ask first. Of course you’ll tell me your name, so I’ll ask: why did you come here?”
“Let me answer by saying that I saw your flames and knew they were only flames a Mytha could make, so I came to investigate. And my name is Drayce.”

“The Drayce? The Mytha who fought in the Serpent War?” I manage to stammer out.
“The very same,” Drayce replies.
“So you’re my father!” I squeal as he nods. My friends behind me gasp. Suddenly my mum is panting behind me, having run up the stairs. She pulls Drayce towards her and squeezes him as if to say ‘I’m not letting you go ever’.
“Look at you! You’ve changed!” she cries.
“So have you,” Drayce smiles.

In the months after the battle, Eden convinced us to conquer Wyvernfort and the Elekkans I left in Feydel under Morgan’s banner, and so all the kingdoms are joined. Now, we all live in Dawnhold; a whole street of Mythali and people who were involved with the war. Celosia, Snapdragon, and their mum live directly across from me. Jay and his family live to the left of me, and Moon and her family with Fierstorrm to the right. Eden lives with Milly and Alyssa. Gryphon, Aisling, Emma, Oakia, Maya, Arny, Mehira, and Coralia live in another house with Stargazer.

Somehow, Snapdragon became a normal human so she doesn’t have to keep the illusion spell on herself. Strangely, her appearance didn’t change. I ask her how she did it, and she just shakes her head. And another strange thing is that Bludtooth has disappeared. Moon still has the Orb, though. I ask her about it, and she says that Snapdragon had figured out what the cost of the Mytha’s Spell being created was, and she found the fairy. The fairy made her a normal human, and then disappeared. I asked Snapdragon what happened, but all she says was that the fairy was bound to the Mytha’s Spell and couldn’t leave it until a certain time.

The Mytha’s Spell is kept in the castle. Morgan still walks through the streets unguarded. When Scarlet asks Jay to sing, he sings a new song the Dawnholders made about us. Sylva visits quite often, and I go out to the forest to meet her. I spend most of my days carving things like dragons, but sometimes an old and forgotten memory makes me carve a creature from the garden where I spent most of my time when I ruled. Other times I carve a phoenix and give it to Snapdragon, and she smiles while her mother wonders.