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Rated: E · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2190667
A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet

“The darkest nights produce the brightest stars.”

Divider (2)

The last memory Jace had was of hitting the water. He remembered bracing himself for the fall, anticipating the cold, and expecting warbled silence to snuff out the chaos. But instead, he found himself staring up at a stained glass window that depicted a broken ship on stormy seas. It felt familiar and desperately important, and Jace’s world rocked from side to side — as if he were on that ship. As he struggled to regain his bearings, as absurd as that idea was under the circumstances, he heard Cedwyn’s voice say:

Well now … They’re certainly screwed.

At first, the Outrider couldn’t tell where he was – the glass was heavy and dark, like the kind in old pubs built back when a looking glass was a luxury for the rich. As the clouds outside shifted, misty red moonlight spilled across the ridged surface, a crimson tide as slow as molasses.

Jace tilted his head minutely to the side. Then he noticed a man as familiar as the window slipping his hand casually into his cloak.

“This isn’t real,” Jace said. “Wait … no, this isn’t real. Is it?”

“You’re not asking the right questions,” Kerrick said. “Same as last time.”

“Please don’t,” Jace blurted without thinking.

Donovan withdrew the narrow tin that held his cigarettes.

“Don’t be such a goddamned baby,” he said, placing one in his mouth. Attached to the case was a small flint box lighter. Kerrick struck it, but pain was twisting his hands, and he could not quite lift the flame to his mouth.

Jace leaned over in his chair. Moving as if someone else was in control of his movements. Moving like a puppet on, and playing out, a string. Moving without thought, he grabbed the flint box and lit the cigarette for him. Donovan took a long pull.

“Thanks,” he said. Then he went oddly silent.

A feather-light tickle along Jace’s chest—

The tip of one razor-sharp dagger — the one with the onyx handle engraved with a snake — was pressed to his ribs, and that was message enough.

Jace glanced down at the weapon. Even now, he knew Kerrick could attack, give him a wound that would mar him for a lifetime. If they both fell here, they would be nothing but a rumor, buried in a shallow hole and carried on in drunken tales in this godforsaken underwater.

“Every emotion has a pulse, greenhorn,” Kerrick said, and then winced as his stomach clenched. He hid the pain as best he could while he slipped the weapon back under his belt. “You’re so much smarter than that.”

Jace’s eyes were bloodshot. He swallowed hard. At last, he asked: “What is this?”

Kerrick flicked some ash before taking another drag, then slouched in the chair and crossed his legs at the ankle. The pain was subsiding.

“What are you blabberin' about now, boy?”

“I asked you what this is.”

“You’re the one who set me up, Dorse. Or Jace. Or whatever you call yourself now. Conspiring with that glorified politician. I never did trust him as far as I could—”

Spit,” Jace said. “I remember.”

“Yeah, you remember,” Kerrick said, rolling his eyes. “You don’t even remember your own past. Nothing real before your 16th birthday. Everything you remember ain’t but smoke ‘n mirrors put there by one them Red Moon Monks. And where’s that idiot now, hm? Playing Regicide on the docks, wasting away. Stalled on his path, waiting for you, like some worthless, rudderless ice blood.”

“What are you even talking—”

Kerrick was staring into some far off, imaginary horizon when he cut Jace off.

“I woulda thought you already had all the answers. Conspiring and such, remember? Like I was saying.”

“You were killing innocent people, Kerrick. My orders were to confirm that, and if it was true, to neutralize you. And in exchange—”

“Neville Katic would cover your tracks. Tell anyone who mattered you were dead. It’s quite the story.”

“Yes. And he kept his word.”

“And while you were setting me up, the true target, that plague-infested, Leather Apron, Papa Bones butcher escaped and caused havoc through time, space, and god knows how many dimensions. He causes that havoc still. You see, that’s the problem in a nutshell, greenhorn, you don’t even know what Mirror Lake is. Not really. Because I never taught you that lesson. But ask Jaden about it if you live long enough to get back there.”

“Right. That’s where this is. Mirror Lake, right? That’s where we are right now?”

Luna Scarlet ruled the night sky like nothing Jace had ever … no, wait, he had seen it like this before. On that night on the Fairlawn Thoroughfare when Artemus had sent him here, tried to trap him here forever.

Cedwyn and Isabelle had rescued him from this place.


“Only this time, if what you’re thinkin’ is true, rememberin’ your true past, who you really are and all … well, you won’t need to be rescued. No need for jadeite, Due Timers, or mirrors. You could just leave, walk out on your own. Just like you did before.”

“How did you know what I was thinking?” Jace asked.

“Because I’m a ghost, stupid. Or in your head, or a nightmare. Maybe all three, I can never keep track. Unlocked that past in Lornda Manor, eh? With Artemus?” Kerrick whistled. “Bet that was one hell of a ride.”

That distant, menacing presence of Luna Scarlet had grown a hundred times bigger, into a globe so bright and massive Jace could swear it hung only a few feet outside the window.

The entire room was red. Everything in it was red.

Speaking of Neville Katic, he has my things. What you left on my body that night just to cover your ass. Hell. Way I see it they’re your things now anyway. So when you’re on your trip down memory lane tonight, when he offers them back, take them without hesitation. Especially the ring. Oh, and remind him how much I hated him.”

Kerrick tried to laugh, but it seemed to cause him serious discomfort, so he stopped and his face went blank.

Jace sighed.

“I am so tired of listening to nonsensical riddles and—”

“Quiet,” Kerrick cut him off again. “This is the last time we’re gonna chat like this. My role in this story is ending, and I still have something to say.” He closed his eyes for a second or two and then opened them again. “You’re a good lookin’ kid,” he said, and the pause that followed was not about pain. “Smart.” His voice, deep and rough, was softer than his apprentice had ever heard. “That’s not entirely true. It was just as soft on the night this really happened. That memory of yours is like a broken bone, newly mended. Still fragile before it grows stronger than ever.”

Kerrick’s gaze went right through the boy he had raised.

Jace could barely manage a whisper: “Am I dead?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “But if you’re here, you’re close.”

The master assassin’s head bobbed slightly, heavy on his neck. His eyes rose to Jace. And with great exertion, he sat upright. The cigarette fell out of his loose hand, and with a grunt, he leaned forward so his face was inches from Jace’s own.

“Last call,” he muttered – and he suddenly sounded very tired.

Before Jace could respond, the red light suddenly blinded him and he was thrown up into the air. A concussion rattled through every fiber of his being, as an explosion of some sort launched him so high that his back hit the ceiling. When he came down, he hit the edge of the table he had been sitting at, landed on the floor, and stood up. Then a second explosion knocked him down again. The windows crashed, the door flew off its hinges, and water rushed in all around him from every direction. In an instant, it was over him, under him, consuming him until he was completely submerged in freezing-cold darkness.

Jace was caught in a current, tumbling and tossed around like a doll. Even if he had been free to move as he wanted, he had no sense of how he was positioned whatsoever. He could have been swimming deeper, thinking it was up. Holding his breath was becoming a chore. Soon, it would no longer be worth it.

But then he was jerked to the side by something.

And the next thing he knew, he was on the surface, gasping for air.

The Outrider didn’t think. That was always his approach in moments like these. Thinking wasted energy, it opened mental doors to doubt, fear, and over analyzation. Jace knew he had to get back to the dock or he was going to drown. And he would either drown or he wouldn’t. It was as simple as that. His arms were weak, he was exhausted, but he wouldn’t allow his mind to register that fact.

He simply acted:

The massive wooden pillars weren’t far in front of him, so he started swimming. His arms hurt, his thighs burned, but he didn’t care. He swam. He saw the wooden column getting closer and closer and focused on that. One movement at a time. One proceeding the other. Closer. And then he was able to bearhug it. It was slimy and wet, but Jace could catch his breath now. He could support himself, occasionally turning his head to the side as waves lapped over his shoulders and the back of his head.

For the first time, he could move slightly past the first order of thinking, past mere survival and he thought about how Bela was nowhere in sight. The realization made him frown, but he was still in trouble himself. Then something amazing happened. Something impossible:

A giant, thick rope was thrown down into the water, so heavy that it would have actually hurt him if it had landed just a few more feet to the left. Jace looked up at the pier. The climb up looked to be at least 15 feet, and he could see the shadow of the massive moor the rope was attached to. He didn’t question it. He didn’t think.

But he also knew he didn’t have the strength to make that climb.

Keeping one hand on the cylindrical, slimy column, he reached for the rope with the other. He got a good grip and transferred the other hand to it and then waited again.

What comes next? Thean’s voice asked in his head.

“I don’t know,” Jace said out loud, probably just to hear his own voice more than anything else.

But then he remembered the feverfew he had in the pouch around his neck. Spitting water and turning his head again, he took it out from under his shirt, alternating his grip on the rope to take a pinch of the stuff and placed it in his mouth. It was wet and tasted like saltwater and he tightened the little string on the pouch again.

You’re only supposed to be using that for medicinal purposes.

“Not drowning is medicinal.”

Even still. You’ve never tried it when it’s wet.

“I know, I was just thinking that.”

You are thinking that., Not-Thean corrected.

Jace staged himself into a climbing position. His hands gripped the rope, one over the other, hoping he would feel something soon. Hoping he would feel anything that would allow him to—

An intense, manic energy began to uncurl from the base of Jace’s spine.

He thrashed in the water, on the brink of losing control. It would last only a few moments, this feeling of the sun rising in his body, until it connected with the flames in his mouth.

When the two came together, the spasms down his arms and hands stopped. They were no longer trembling, and he started to climb, quite effortlessly, back up to the docks. The climb could have been a thousand feet and he would have had no problem, his progress steady all the way up the rope. When he reached the top, he stood against the railing and sprung himself over it. And now he was once again standing on the pier. He felt like running forever and he felt like he could. And he half-expected to see whoever had tossed the rope down to him, too, but there was nobody there.

The enormous bulk of the Dock Complex cast a long shadow over the sea, its staggered tiers of hangars and harbors coming together in a vast, dense hive of structures that could have easily held an entire fleet by both sea and air. It had clearly come together over the course of generations, and gave the impression of both a towering nest and a formidable citadel. It was easy to imagine ships and aircraft of every kind maneuvering in and out of the complex, making it a hub of activity and a landmark to be proud of.

​Now, there was little sign of that history, little sign that this had been one of the few places on Ciridian that had ever served, by its very nature, as an embassy where the leaders of nations met. Silence had descended over the great building like a shroud, and small fishing boats anchored near the outer walls kicked idly in the current. Further out, immense masts rose up like tombstones, bits of torn sail playing against the wind like phantoms of the once-proud ships that no doubt lay below, destroyed and ransacked by the enemy.

Towering crates had been scattered haphazardly about, leaving rotting food and other goods to create a slick, eerie haze on the sea and an awful stench on the dock. The battle was coming to an end. The sound of distant airship engines was more frequent than the sound of their weapons, which meant they weren’t firing anymore. It was impossible to know how long had actually passed in the real world after he went into the water, but judging based on his past experiences with such episodes, he usually came out of them at the same instant he left. However long it had been, he suspected Lockhardt was in the city by now, his forces rooting out pockets of last resistance like the forces Jace had just rode through. Creed was back in Hamon with the bulk of the Helix Legions in defense of the Sindell capital, probably more than a little envious of his counterpart. Still, it would be some time before the Dock Complex, or Zarponda for that matter, reclaimed any sense of normalcy.

The effects of the feverlew surged through Jace’s body, but he knew them well enough to know those effects were subdued. For there was something else in his body, something Artemus had warned him about. The feverlew was powerful, frighteningly powerful. Some even said arcane. But where Dabriel was concerned, as he started walking up the dock, it was simply the energy he needed to keep moving. Exertion like this used to be effortless, but in the months since he had arrived in Sindell, in the months since The Tunnels of Armageddon, it was anything but.

Separating the dock from the drop to Glate Bay, two railing posts – one depicting an airship, the other a naval warship – flanked an ancient-looking stone staircase descending inexplicably into the water. These marked the beginning of corresponding, highly polished hardwood banisters, and each was engraved with images and inscriptions recounting the evolution of the Dock Complex. In the direction now running behind him, the railing Jace had jumped Bela over was carved with the early events and people of the Royal Sindell Navy. On the other side, after the airship, the timeline broadened into the history of the Royal Air Force that replaced it.

Jace hadn’t walked here since he was a kid, and even then it didn’t mean much to him. He had never felt overly connected to this place. Most of his time, in those days, was spent training with Kerrick, often brutally, and he was angry for almost all of it. In truth, he had thought more about the stone staircase in the seconds it took him to pass it than he ever did when he used to see it every day. He had always regarded it as little more than some strange monument, and Zarponda had plenty of those. Maybe by having a stairway leading to nowhere, the long-dead artist, whoever he was, was making a statement.

Relic would have known about it.

“Yeah, he would,” Jace answered the thought, wishing his friend was with him. If they ever reunited, he swore he would never complain about any of Avery’s impromptu, unnecessary dissertations ever again. Like so many things he had come to expect and take for granted, he desperately missed them.

He never felt more alone.

But all he could do now was keep walking.

His soaked clothes were ragged, but they still felt heavy. Every footstep was accompanied with an uncomfortable, wet squish and his shoes felt heavy as well, growing heavier all the time.

Where did I even get these stupid shoes?

The Dock Complex was also the home of The Sundowner Squadron. When he lived here, he went to great lengths to pretend he didn’t know that. But he did. He knew it stood at the absolute forefront of aerial technology, or at least it did before Jaden’s arrival in Hamon.

Airships had only ever served as an instrument to reinforce his inferiority complex at not being part of that tradition. At not being permitted to. So it had been easier, growing up, just to pretend like he didn’t care. And like so many other things in his life, pretending led to reality. That didn’t mean he didn’t spend countless nights laying on rooftops, wishing he was flying away from this place as he watched them. It just meant he never admitted it to anyone.

And he didn’t do it consciously, but he stopped at the main entrance and looked up. Emblazoned high above, on the front of the immense structure itself, was the emblem he remembered. He had never had access to the airships his brother and father obsessed over, but he had always liked this emblem. It was a glittering talon, inscribed with words curved over its top and bottom. From here, they could not be made out, but they weren’t meant to. For the motto was reflected by sunlight down on the dock, and so projected at Jace’s feet read:

Live in Fame curved over the top.

Die in Flame rounding the bottom.

Jace sighed.

She couldn’t have been telling the truth about Isabelle.

Are you sure about that?

Yes. She was just trying to demoralize me, that’s all. She knew it would—

“Damn it, stop thinking,” Jace said out loud, snapping at himself.

And then, as if on cue, he heard shouting voices and commotion coming from one of the structures less than a thousand feet beyond the Dock Complex entrance. Probably 920 feet or so he reckoned as he started moving again. Gauging distance had been ingrained in him since the very first days of his training in Veil’driel. The monks helped him finish locking his past out of his mind. He had met Relic that first night in Fairlawn, hadn’t he? Isabelle had been up on a stage, giving a speech, and—

“Stop. Thinking.”

In that moment he thought he heard Isabelle scream.

Had he imagined it?

She screamed again, but Jace was closer to the structure now, and could tell by the sound it wasn’t her. The similarity was so close it was eerie, but it wasn’t her. He hadn’t quickened his pace at all, but he was almost there, and he remembered the place even before he saw the sign proclaiming it: The Sloping Squire.

He had gotten drunk here for the first time when he was 14.

He had trained for Mirror Lake and The Faraway Cry here.

The public house had been abandoned for quite awhile, for at least as long as Ward’s forces had occupied Zarponda, but the door was open, and Jace stepped into it as if on a whim.

Then he stopped after taking a single step through the doorway.

​The structure sloped toward a pit in the floor, a natural spring. There was an empty bar counter, and near it, Treinen was on the floor with Hazel and had her cradled in his arms. He was so intent on her that he hadn’t even noticed Jace’s sudden arrival, ​until he saw the shadow of the Outrider’s silhouette cast upon the floor.

Still, Treinen hardly reacted.

He looked up for a moment to acknowledge he had noticed, but he never turned to make eye contact. He never said a word.

Jace had it all planned out. He was going to make a joke, start out with a quip. Something like, Sorry guys, but it looks like this place is closed.

But when he saw Hazel lying on the floor like that, with Treinen hovering over her, he wasn’t in the mood for jokes.

"What are your intentions?" Treinen asked, the back of his head toward Jace. He was still looking straight ahead, but his right arm was bent at the elbow, right hand on one of his miniature crossbows.

Jace glanced around before answering, taking a few, very slow steps deeper into the tavern. He was making sure they were really alone, trying to identify any possible hiding places, and he was still conducting this survey, careful to keep his tone unconcerned when he asked: "Are you talking to me?"

"You know that I am," Treinen said. "Fair warning. I'll kill you if you're here to kill her."

"That's some pretty big talk for someone with their back towards me."

"You're unarmed."

"You sure about that?"

"Yes. Which makes your surveying of this taproom completely pointless. Tell me, Trent, what exactly would you do if I had reinforcements hiding behind the bar or somewhere else? What would you do if they all popped out at this very moment?"

Jace shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. "Throw up my hands and run away screaming, maybe?"

Treinen actually laughed at this. His head bowed slightly so that he was once again focused on Hazel, but his back was still turned toward Jace.

"Sometimes this life makes me think we should all do that."

Hazel regained consciousness with a start, arced her head back and screamed again.

Like the snapping of a whip, Treinen's attention was back on her. He made a sort of soothing clicking sound and jostled her a little.

"Alright. Easy, girl."

She was sweating and pale, her red hair plastered to her forehead, but her eyes were as alert as ever. They focused up on Treinen's face and then narrowed.

"I ..." she started weakly, swallowing hard. "I told you to go."

"Did you?" Treinen asked. "I don't recall."

As Jace stepped closer to the man he had known only in childhood, he recognized the expression on his face all-too-well - it was the look of fear and deep concern. It was the look of near crippling sadness hidden behind the veneer of cockiness and strength.

Hazel hadn't noticed him yet. She was still completely focused on Treinen and now took his hand in both of hers.

"You have to ..." She was trembling, and paused to steady herself as much as possible before she continued. "You have to tell my father we've lost Zarponda. Lead the others back to ... lead them back to the stairs."

"The others have already gone," Treinen said. "All those who can make it. Your father will know."

"You're as stubborn as I am," she said. She looked as if she were about to smile but then another brief scream, more like an agonized squeak, passed through her lips.

In response to that scream, before Jace even knew what he was doing, he stepped forward and into Hazel's sight. She gritted her teeth and seethed, but was helpless to do much else. And Jace never broke stride, never hesitated as he crouched down beside her, opposite Treinen.

"Hands are reaching under my shirt," Jace warned.

Treinen nodded.

"What are you doing?"

"Helping her," Jace said, moving his hands faster now that he had permission. With a slight bow of the head, he slipped off his necklace with the feverlew pouch.

"That's soaked," Treinen observed, then, as if he had just noticed the Outrider’s state as well, added: “And so are you.”

"It is. And I am. Apparently not all of your forces have retreated to that staircase. Because the only way I managed not to be killed by a bunch of them was jumping into the bay. Anyway, it might taste like saltwater, but it still works, believe me."

Hazel's eyes were looking up at Treinen as if pleasing for him to stop Jace, as she was now almost completely paralyzed. It was a horrible, desperate feeling and she was incapable of speech.

Jace reached down, grabbed her wrist, withdrew the wet feverlew from the pouch, and placed in Hazel's palm. She didn't even look at it, she just continued to stare coldly at her enemy.

"Hey," Treinen finally said, nudging her until she diverted her eyes away from Jace to him. Her resolve weakened, if ever-so-slightly. Then, without ever breaking eye contact with her friend, she brought the feverlew to her mouth and took the entire amount. Some of the color instantly returned to her face, her breathing began to regulate, and an immense wave of relief softened her beautiful features and relaxed her body.

"How do you guys not have feverlew?" Jace asked in a confused whisper, turning to Treinen. "Don't you all have this ... plague or whatever it is from the Tunnels of Arm—"

"Not all of us," Treinen said, shaking his head. "Only the most powerful." He nodded down to the now empty pouch in Jace's hand. "Where did you get that?"

"From the only person who can help her now."

"I don't want to see her!" Hazel yelled, and the surprising sound of her voice drew all attention back down to her. "I hate her, and I hate you!"

"Hazel," Treinen said, placing his hand on her shoulder. "You have to try to conserve your—"

"No!" Hazel screamed, jerking her shoulder away, and for the first time since the gate, Jace was reacquainted with her familiar fury. "You wanna know why we don't have feverlew Huh? It's because our supply has run out. Because our source was destroyed when you destroyed Lornda Manor! When you destroyed our home! We can't grow it here, no one can! Not that idiot apothecary, not anyone!" Her condition may not have been as grave as it had been only minutes before, but she was still in significant pain. Treinen was looking at Jace with a softer, somewhat surprised expression, and Hazel caught it. "Don't be so foolish!" she snapped at him, a mixture of anger and pain in her tone. "You think he gave me that feverlew out of the goodness of his heart? You think he cares about us? You think he cares about me? All he cares about is finding my father's location!"

"He's in Ursinus," Jace said calmly, and this drew Treinen's line of sight back to him. But what he saw in that face, in those eyes, caused his own to open wide as saucers.

"Dorsey!" Treinen yelled. On instinct, he reached out and grabbed his arm.

Jace reached down with both hands and grabbed the collar of Hazel's golden armor. He pulled it up, and her with it. She grunted and winced and then her face was just inches from his.

"Don't call me that," he said absently.

"Okay!" Treinen yelled. "Jace, okay! Jace!" His hand tightened its grip on Jace's arm, and with the other, he drew the miniature crossbow from his right hip, pressing it hard into the Outrider's ribs. By outward appearence, he should have complete control of the situation. Which made the helpless desperation in his tone, on par with anything Hazel had exhibited, that much more bizarre. "Don't make me do this!"

Hazel's expression went almost totally blank. For a moment, it tried to hold on to a defiant countenance, but what remained looked absurd; a parody of itself, melting in the full force, and literal face, of Dabriel's essence. Whatever that actually was. Whatever indefinable storm, whatever cyclone that Isabelle had spent years trying to quantify, to articulate, to understand.

Jace didn't so much as flinch at the feeling of the crossbow bolt jammed into his body. By the look in his eyes, he didn't even feel it. And by the look in Treinen's, he hadn't expected him to.

"You wanna talk about Lornda Manor? Do you? Okay, Illumanatii, let's talk about it. We were sent on a mission to scout out the coast of Veil'driel after we were attacked. We were attacked, remember that. It shouldn’t be too difficult for you to do, considering your old man's the one who orchestrated it. Minotaurs, Golems, Overshadows, the whole gang was there, it was great. Relic basically had his mind shredded in a magical gypsy wagon, I blew up some wagons of my own — which was hilarious, by the way. I was shot in the back and almost killed again, but only after your legendary father tried to imprison me in Mirror Lake forever!"

Hazel's eyes darted all over Dabriel's face, as if she couldn't focus on just one aspect of what she was looking at. It was like someone frantically surveying a work of art, but only had a limited time to do so.

"If only you knew what you don't know," she whispered.

Jace shook her armor again and now her eyes were locked back on his. There was nothing of malice or anger or hate in her eyes or on her face. In fact, she looked like she did the first night she ever saw him. She looked turned on.

"If only you knew what you don't know," he mocked. "Well then lets keep talking about what I do. Where was I? That’s right, ordered to scout the countryside all the way to the coast, first Outriders to do that since The Looking Glass War. On a mission to assess the true nature of the threat to us, the full scope, which turned out to be you!” Quick detour to meet your mother and Gabriel Foy of all people in Sandia, and then finally to your favorite topic of conversation. if not the reason of why we were being attacked. Lornda Manor."

"Jaden's not my moth-"

"Yeah, except she is, though, Hazel. She is. And don't interrupt me here, c'mon. This is the part you're so obsessed with, right?"

"You don't know what you're talking abou-"

Jace shook her again. She grunted again.

"Shut up." On some far away level, in some unimportant recess of his mind, Jace registered Treinen's grip tighten on his arm again. But his only reaction was to lean his face impossibly closer still to Hazel's, and he continued in what could only be described as a furious whisper, eerily similar, Treinen though, to what an Overshadow sounded like. "We trusted you. Were lured in by you. Everything you showed us was an illusion, a lie. You used us to convince Aleister and parliament that what Artemus said was true, and he used Jaden's trust and love of him to betray the entire continent. And then you tried to keep us all hostage!" Jace tilted his head to the side, a gesture meant as a point of emphasis.. "You're traitors. All of you." He nodded slowly as a person delivering hard facts he was aware would be hard to swallow. "And in our attempt to escape, my best friend was killed, and Lornda Manor was destroyed because we had no other choice. And you ... you have the gall ... the gall to try and hold what happened over our head? Over my head? And Hazel, I'm telling you right now, if what you said about Isabelle is true, you better tell your man here to pull the trigger. You know me, Treinen. Sort of," he said, addressing him without moving a muscle. "Am I lying?"

Treinen frowned.

"No," he said with a sigh.

"Cedwyn saved me from Mirror Lake. He saved you from Mirror Lake. You're supposed to be the protectors of Ciridian and now you've condemned it!"

Having regained some of her strength, she reached up to a silver chain around her neck, then pulling her thumb up, revealed a jadeite stone, and for the first time in awhile, Jace paused as if collecting himself.

"Unlike you, who turned yourself off for a decade, I remember everything, Dorsey Trent."

"That isn't my name."

"Yeah, except it is, though, Dorsey. It is," she said, making her voice absurdly deep to mock his. But then she continued normally: "And don't interrupt me here. This is the part you're so obsessed with, right? Mirror Lake?" Jace said nothing. He couldn't look away from the jade necklace. "Do you know what the Luna Scarlet Monks say about jade?"

"Yes," Jace said, still transfixed for some reason. "I should have taken you with me that night. I'm sorry."

He looked down to see her press the necklace into his hand, just as he had placed the feverlew in hers.

"Only you could have left by the road you came in on. I had to find my own way out. And thanks to this, I did."

"I am not your enemy, Hazel. None of us are. It isn't too late to come back from this."

She stopped. Bit her lip ...

"If only you knew the things you don't know," she said. She was drifting again, but peacefully this time, and her eyes fluttered shut.

"Hazel ..." Jace said softly. He lowered her upper body slowly, gently back down to the floor. "Hey."

"Your friend ...," she whispered. "Seems like he had enough."

Helpless to leave.

"Is she delusional?" Jace asked, still staring down at her.

Helpless to change.

Treinen pulled the crossbow away from Jace's ribs and clipped it back to his belt.

Helpless to grow.

"In a manner of speaking," he said. "She's drifting into Mirror Lake."


"Nothing ever happens in Mirror Lake, mister," she said with her eyes closed. And then she was quiet again, breathing slow and sleeping.

"We can't move her like this," Treinen said, only now finally letting go of Jace's arm. "If we try it, she'll die."

"Not where I can take her," Jace said.

"How do I know I can trust you? How do I know you'll keep her safe?"

At this, Jace looked up from Hazel, to Treinen.

"Because I give you my word." There was no need for further discussion. Treinen simply nodded. "Now go.” Jace's attention was back on Hazel when he realized Treinen was still looking at him. "I know you can seal the gate on the other side once you get to Ursinus. You said you wanted to know my intentions, right? Well, I have no intention of following you down those stairs."

"It isn't that."

"Then what?"

"You had feverlew on you. Which means you're either still an addict, which I know you're not because the time loop cured you of that ... or ..." Jace moved his other arm and turned it to expose the gray scars. "That's impossible," Treinen said, nearly gasping. "It's barely been three months, there's no way it could be as advanced as that."

Jace shrugged.

"You always said I was the lucky one." When he got no reaction from Treinen he turned more serious. "Artemus did warn me that following him would be a death sentence." Treinen hesitated for only a second longer before rising to his feet. With one last look down to the unconscious Hazel, he saluted her before starting back toward the exit. He had only taken a few steps before Jace said: "And Treinen," and stopped him in his tracks. When he turned back around, their roles had been completely reversed, as if this moment was a mirror image of the original, when Jace had first entered the tavern. "I'm not done following him, either, you tell him that."

"I will," Treinen said, staring at Jace's back as he hovered over Hazel.

"And tell him his daughter is safe and will be very well looked after."

"I'll tell him that, too." He watched as Jace nodded, almost left, but then hesitated again, almost as if he had been debating whther or not to share what he was about to. "Hey, Dorse?"

Jace looked back up, but he still didn't turn around.


"If you knew Katic was still alive. If you knew where to find him, would you want to?"

I am so tired of listening to nonsensical riddles and—

Jace sighed.

"Maybe. Why?"

"Because I think he has something that belongs to you. Hangs out with some guy who claims to be Luna Scarlet, but I've no way to tell if you that's true."

"Where are they?"

"That warehouse the fishermen used to call The Swan. It's abandoned now. And it hasn't changed at all, just a heads up. If anything ... if anything's it's gotten worse from the days Kerrick used to take us down there to ..."

Jace smiled.


Treinen smiled, too. But his looked sad ... distracted, maybe.

"Yeah," he said.

"Why are you telling me this?"

When Treinen spoke again, Jace could tell he was moving again toward the door.

"An undefinable feeling that I’m supposed to. Isn’t that how these things usually work? Plus I believe you deserve to know. I’m also sorry for a lot of the things I said to you out there on the plains. I shouldn’t have disrespected your loss, I was just … anyway, just so you know, for whatever it's worth, I think they might be expecting you."

"Expecting me?" Now Jace did twist half-way around to see Treinen was, indeed, almost at the door. "How could they be expecting me?"

Without breaking stride, Treinen shrugged as he crossed the threshold.

"Claims to be Luna Scarlet, remember? Maybe he is." Jace turned back to Hazel. "Plus, you're famous, you know."

That last thing Treinen had said came back through the doorway of The Sloping Squire, from the dock, and Jace knew Treinen was gone.

"Yeah," the Outrider said quietly to himself. He laid the back of his hand on Hazel’s forehead, feeling that her fever was breaking. "So I've heard."

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The sunset over Glate Bay was stunningly beautiful. And yet - even in that dazzling blend of purples, reds, and yellows that roiled with each breath of the breeze on the water — Jace couldn't help but notice the eerie undercurrents, both literal and figurative, of a scene he had witnessed not long ago.

Had it really been 3 months since Lornda Manor? When he heard Treinen say that, it didn't seem right. It couldn't be right, it felt like a lifetime. The sight he was looking at now, however, seemed like it could have happened yesterday. As Jace withdrew his golden lighter, he felt as if he could have been back on that balcony, smoking with his friend who had provided the cigarettes in his hand. This had become routine; celebrating each victory as he would have had Cedwyn been with him.

Not far from where he was standing, Jaret Brandon was in deep conversation with a group of his Dragoons and Sky Knights. Over the Sky Lord's shoulder, the tavern where Jace had confronted Hazel and Treinen stood dark and quiet near the entrance of the Dock Complex; The Sloping Squire sign creaking on sea-rusted hinges.

The briefing, of which Jace could only hear a snippet here or there, seemed to be primarily about a possible Winged Creature attack, and how best to prepare for that. He didn't have to hear it, though, to tell it was coming to an end. Brandon's people were clearly breaking off and spreading out to tend to assigned tasks.

The Outrider took a long drag, waiting, knowing that Jaret would come to him next.

"Lockhardt's still in the process of securing the city," the Sky Lord said as he came up beside him. He rolled up the map over which he had just been conferring and took in the view for a moment. "I don't even think there's a cohesive plan yet to clear the Complex."

Jace nodded. Neither bit of information was news to him. Although he was at least curious as to why no one had even entered the massive structure at their backs.

"Thought you'd be eager to get in there," he said.

"Yeah, well ... eagerness is not the issue. It's time. You know the size of the hangar in Hamon." Jace glanced down to his cigarette and nodded. "Now multiply that by about four." He paused and sighed. "Not to mention the barracks, the offices, the ..." He stopped again, shook his head, and drifted off, looking away. "It's gonna be a nightmare securing that place."

"Hm," Jace mused, flicking ash into the darkening water.

Jaret turned around and pointed casually up to the emblem, though the dying sunlight was too dim now to reflect the motto.

"The winged creatures haven't attacked since Jaden arrived. Could be because of that, or what you guys did at Lornda Manor, but regardless ... Zarponda doesn't have a forcefield over it. So we gotta be ready for anything."

Jace nodded again, but seemed passively interested at best, and this made Jaret smile. "A prince of Sindell not interested in airships. Always found that amusing."

"Prince," Jace scoffed. "I'm a bastard, Brandon. And I was a kid when I left."

"You're still a kid."

Jace narrowed his eyes on the choppy water.

"Yeah? Is that what I am?" His eyes wandered further down the dock. The shadows were heavier there, but that wasn't the only thing that made it darker. There was a fog rolling in over the bay that seemed to fit his mood. What Hazel had told him about Isabelle weighed on him like the weight of the world and it made him feel sick. "Airships were not the side of Sindell I was a part of, Jaret."

Jaret followed the younger man's line of sight to see the area he was looking at. He laid a hand on Jace's shoulder.

"I know," he said solemnly. "Hey ..." He waited for Jace to look at him before continuing, and as he did so, he motioned back towards the opposite direction of the dock, as if eager to divert his attention. "The Royal 8th," he said. "Home of the Sundowners. It's one of the oldest, most distinguished squadrons we got, second only to Hamon." He gestured up and down to where the airships from that very force stood idle in a perfect row. "Won't have Jaden's weaponry yet, but we'll remedy that soon enough." Tucking the map away, he took a deep breath as he leaned forward and rested his forearms on the timeline railing. "Assuming they're still alive, of course." It was clear he had been avoiding that thought until now. "And that the airships haven't all been destroyed."

"When was the last time you heard from them?"

"Not since Zarponda fell. So what's that, two years or so?" He took a minute to stare at the inlet's opening and what remained of the scarlet sunlight flaring through. Then, as if the beautiful sight had inspired some optimism, he stood upright. "Still ... the communication sapphires are working again within the city, and that's a good sign. We might count a whole other squadron among our assets by this time tomorrow, along with some of the finest Sky Knights in the realm." Jace nodded. He seemed to be doing that a lot, almost automatically, and Jaret grew much more serious. A seriousness reflected in his tone as vividly as the sunset's in the water before them. "The present is a lot like a cockpit, Highness. Or ... in your case, a saddle."

Jace chuckled at this, though whether it was what Brandon had actually said, or that he had addressed him as Highness with a straight face was unclear.

"Yeah? How's that?"

"Takes courage to stay in it," Brandon answered, his expression unchanged. "I know you can't appreciate what you've done since coming home to us. We never got to know each other and I regret that. The last memory have of youI saw you, you couldn’t have been more than 8, trying to fly a kite with little luck. The day Kerrick showed up to ..." He cleared his throat and sighed deeply. "Listen, I don't pretend to understand what drove you away or what you've gone through since. But I do know this was a tremendous victory. Due in no small part to you. Hell ... almost entirely to you, let's be honest." He extended his hand and continued after Jace took it. "The darkest nights produce the brightest stars. And you might be the brightest start I've ever seen. Don't ever forget that."

Jace looked a little uncomfortable, but appreciative. Still he was eager to change the subject, and did so as his hand fell back to his side.

"How is she?"

"Last I heard?" Unconscious. But her vital signs were strong. Stellan took her back to the capital in an L2."

"I don't know what that is. Or what that means."

Jaret laughed a little.

"An airship with room enough to transport her."

"Ah." Although it was unlikely Jace would have said anything else anyway, his attention was pulled down to the dock by one of the airships firing up. When he turned back, Jaret was already moving back to his airship, where a few more of the airmen had congregated. he had only taken a step or two, however, when Jace called after him and he turned back around with a snap. "Goo luck up there tonight ... Lord of the Sky." He winked.

Jaret smiled.

"And you as well, my prince. Down here."

As Jaret Brandon continued on to his airship, Jace turned back to the one that had stolen his attention a few seconds before. It was well into the sky by now, and with where it ha been now cleared, Jace could once again see the ornate stone staircase, and Malcolm crouched beside it; examining some aspect of the curious thing.

Jace started over slowly, unable to discern what the Whistler was looking at before he reached him.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Do you have any idea what this is about?"

Jace bent down and snuffed out his cigarette and then stayed in that position to see what Malcolm found so interesting. There was a leviathan etched into the side of the wall-railing of the staircase, and an empty space in its eye socket. The tide was a little higher now, to the point where if one were to walk own the watery flight, they would be ankle deep in the bay after just a couple steps.

"No, not really," Jace said. "There was something that looked like this in Lornda Manor - in the fountain we escaped through, but who knows how the enemy actually uses it."

"Well it's ancient," Malcolm observed. "A lot older than Artemus Ward."

Jace shrugged.

"I didn't say he built it. Just that he and his people know how to use it."

Malcolm stood up and crossed his arms.

"These serpents," he said, nodding down to the engravings. "I've seen them before. "They're like the entrance of that cave in Bryce Valley."

Still crouched, Jace wrinkled his brow. Now he was the one studying the stairs, lost in distracted fascination. In addition to the leviathan, there were several rune symbols the Outrider noticed immediately — a truth reflected in his hesitation. He had seen some of them in Thean's record book; others he'd seen in The Tunnels of Armageddon, both in the tunnels themselves and the visions of Arkhelan in Mazhira that Calloway had shown him.

"I'll ask Jaden about them when I see her again."

The Outrider wasn't aware of any change in his demeanor, but Malcolm's response suggested there was one.

"You've seen those symbols before, I take it."

"Yeah. Lornda Manor. And-—"

"Well, well, if it isn't the Twin Stars themselves. Live and in the flesh," a booming voice sounded behind them. Jace smiled, coming to his feet and turning toward the sound of the voice as it continued: "Should've known it was you who'd be leaving weapons lying around. "There had been plenty of times when Jace was a teenager, when the mountain of a man had made such comments seriously. This evening, the inflection in Triplicarius Mac Caulurn's voice was unmistakable pride. "You Outriders are nothing if not a constant headache." He shook his head and handed the short swords and miniature crossbows back to Jace. No bolt belts, however. Then he turned to Malcolm and shook his hand. "And you Whistlers, don't even get me started." He saluted both of them, a gesture to do more with their status as Veil'driel Star recipients than their rank.

Malcolm smirked at him.


"Good to see ya, kid," the colossal man said, but then his expression tightened to business. "General wants to see ya. Probably wants you and your boys in place in case any of those giant ass bat things come 'round."



Malcolm sighed.

"Problem? No. But I only have a dozen guys with me here," he said, confused. "Our mission was specific to covering Jace, not fending off flying demons."

Caulurn laughed.

"Listen to this one," he said, turning briefly to Jace while pointing to the bowman with his thumb. But that prideful tone was back, and he was barely smiling by the time he looked back. "Lockhardt, by the leave and all permissions of General Creed, is placing you in command of his Sagittari tonight. Rumor has it you'll soon be captain of all Veil'driel bowmen as well."

Malcolm turned a scowl toward Jace.

"How come every time I hang out with you, I end up getting a promotion I don't want?"

Jace just spread his arms.

"Hey, don't look at me. You're the idiot who keeps showing them how competent you are for some reason."

Caulurn laughed again.

"Better get a move on, lad," he said. "I was supposed to give you that message twenty minutes ago."

"Alright then," Malcolm began. "I'll ..." He cleared his throat and looked back to Jace. "See ya later?"


They exchanged what, to Caulurn, was a meaningful nod. The kind that conveyed more than words could or were meant to. The old veteran knew it from experience.

Then Malcolm glanced over to Caulurn and nodded to him as well as he started off. A small contingent of his men were waiting to accompany him to whatever Command Tent was set up, standing in front of The Sloping Squire. One of them was clearly imitating Malcolm's desperate jump from the tower in Raven Square, and it made both Jace and Caulurn smile as they watched.

A little closer, guarding a small group of golden rider prisoners receiving medical attention for minor wounds, Alarick Dale was talking to someone who looked familiar, but Jace couldn't quite place. He almost wanted to go up to him and ask where he really got that horn he gave to him that night. Right there and then. And why he did so, who he did it for, how he could have—

He felt Caulurn's massive hand settle heavy on his shoulder.

"Whatcha thinkin' about, kid?" the giant asked.

Jace flinched and looked up for a second, looking back to Alarick as he answered.

"I can't stop thinking, that's the problem."

Caulurn nodded.

"I know another Outrider who has the same problem."

Jace shrugged.

"Yeah. But he's a lot smarter than me."

"Smart," the triplicarius scoffed. His gaze moved to the shadows down the dock, where the fog was settling in. It was almost totally dark now. "Smart is just a word."

Mac Caulurn was Relic's oldest instructor and mentor, but he was also an important influence on Jace's life as well, especially in the earliest days when he had first arrived in Veil'driel. His guard was always a little lower around the man. Emotions he worked so hard to suppress, a little closer to the surface.

"So is annoying."

Caulurn rolled his eyes, slid his hand from Jace's shoulder to his arm and pushed him. And the Outrider laughed, but not like he used to, and the triplicarius found something sad about it. Felt the weight below the surface.

"Mission's done, Jace. Zarponda is ours. This is not a small enemy encampment or supply depot. This is a major victory. Everything you've done in the months since you got here, all of the planning ... this is the result. No more hiding in the shadows, no more keeping your presence here a secret so the enemy doesn’t find out. When you get back to Hamon this time ... shave, look like yourself again in the mirror. Feel like yourself again. Make sure you're still you when all this is over."

Jace took a deep breath of the saltwater air and leaned back against the stairs.

"If only you knew what you don't know, Mac."

When Caulurn grabbed Jace's arm again, it was instantly different, as was his tone. And the sound of that booming voice felt like it blasted right through him like a wave. Like being on the edge of an explosion directed at him. As far as he had come, as famous as he was, in that moment it was like he ha been pulled a decade back into the past. It was like he was a teenager, humble, focused and intimidated. He had even stood up from leaning back, and it took some effort not to stand at attention.

"You listen to me, boy. And listen good. I don't know where you heard that expression, but I used o hear Artemus say it when he was your age and it annoyed me even then. Now here's what I do know. I know you're constantly feeling upset, especially when you have enough time to think about everything you've been through. About everything that happened that night in Westwood and everything since. I know you have nightmares, vivid memories, and flashbacks. I know you feel emotionally cut off from others, feel numb about things you used to care about, feel irritated, have difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and feel jumpy all the time. Am I leaving anything out?"

Jace's eyes widened. He tried to say something but all that came out was:

"I ..."

Now the iron grip on his arm loosened, and the giant hand slid back up to his shoulder and then the side of his face. Caulurn leaned down and closer forward so that he was all that Jace could see.

"I know that I am always here for you to talk. I know about your past and who you were before you came to us. But now you concentrate on what's in front of you. You concentrate on what's real and keep life in front of you. This disease you have from those tunnels, this affliction you think you've kept a secret, I've seen that all before, too. And we're gonna deal with that, too. History may have called it The Looking Glass War and recorded that it ended with a heroic negotiation by Tillian Bren, but it's the same one we're fighting now. And this time we're gonna end it for real. Because of people like you, and Malcolm, and Relic and Isabelle. Because of the sacrifices of those like Cedwyn.

There was emotion welling in Jace's eyes. The reaction of a man who had kept his doubts and fears locked away for far too long.

Caulurn carefully repositioned himself to shield him from anyone who might be watching. And with Jace, everyone was watching. All the time.

"Isabelle ... she told me Isabelle was dead."

Caulurn sighed.

"You keep your mind in the present and on what you're doing," he said. "You remember that lesson? That girl trained you, I'm sure she taught you that. Don't you worry about her. I've known you a very long time. I've known the rest of them longer, and trust me ... Talabray's the toughest of all of you and it ain't even close. Whatever you were told was to tie your mind into knots, and that ain't you. Relax. Remember what I told you, and know you're not the first person to feel like this, or carry what you must carry, understand me?"

Jace sniffed and wiped a tear from his eye with the back of his hand.

"Yes, sir," he said, clearing his throat.

"Alright." Caulurn said. "Your face looks like someone beat the hell out of you, by the way." He stepped to the side after Jace had regained his composure. "I actually kind of envy whoever that was."

This time when Jace laughed it sounded more real. He sounded more like himself. And Caulurn nodded in silent satisfaction.

"Thank you, Mac."

Caulurn looked down to the dock to where the first large war machines were being wheeled into place - the massive catapults known as Guns - meant to cover Glate Bay against any possible marine assault. The 125th Gun Battalion was hard at work on the task, having come down the very avenue where Jace had ridden the gauntlet.

"You're welcome," Caulurn said but he seemed slightly distracted by what he was looking at. "All I did was tell you the truth. You're gonna be headed back to Hamon tomorrow or the next day and when you get there, remember everything I just told you. Take care of yourself. Be kind and understanding to yourself ... never ... don't ... now what is this moron doing right - Hey!" he yelled over Jace's shoulder, and when Jace turned to see what he was yelling at, he saw a large detachment of soldiers gathering in front of the Complex. "Hey! Yeah, you! I'm talking to you, what are you doing?" One of the men was staring back, looking helpless, and Jace was grateful not to be in the path of that stare as he had been so many times before. "Did I tell you to set that up there?" He snapped a couple times and pointed to a spot further down. "Or there?"

"Sorry, triplicarius!" the soldier shouted back, and it was like the squeak of a mouse in the face of a lion.

"What are they doing?" Jace asked.

"We're laying siege to that place. Lockhardt's orders," Caulurn explained, and at last he looked back. "He thinks the rest of the Tears and Overshadows," he gestured over to the convalescing golden riders. "Their lot over there could have locked themselves inside. We're meant ot make sure they don't try and launch an attack like I was saying before … giant flying bats and all."

All bats fly,” Jace said.

Caulurn squinted at whatever had drawn his attention..

“Shut up, smart ass.”

Jace looked at the older man with awe. There was something about how he had said Tears and Overshadows, but then in the same breath refered to the Demogorgon as giant bats. Almost like he was playing a role. Like he was ...

"I'm beginning to think there's more to you than meets the eye, Trip."

Caulurn had once again been fixated on the men who were now setting up tents. Others were moving giant bronze braziers into place and lighting them, brightening the entire dock. When he turned back to Jace, he took the Outrider's hand again, shaking it, and then leaned in a little closer for emphasis, just as he had before.

"If only you knew the things you don't know," he whispered, and then he went brooding down the dock, leaving Jace in the illuminated halo of a newly placed brazier.

He would take Caulurn's advice. He would find a place to get something to eat and rest. He would let this massive accomplishment — months in the planning — sink in and then he’d try to relax. He would do his best not to think about Isabelle.

But first, there was someone he needed to see, and his attention turned once again to the darker side of the docks.

Jace stepped from the island of light into the shadowy sea beyond. As he walked, he became more vigilant, his gaze always scanning the streets running away from the dock, the alleys, the windows and doors. Where he was headed, the darkness was not an intruder to be denied by bolted doors alone.

What's behind you?

After tonight, he hoped the answer would be his past.

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Chapter Six  (E)
I’ll Be Good
#2190668 by Dan Hiestand
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