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Paragon Ruin Chapter 3


Inflated commentary of the Nightmares’ rising success buzzes inside the warming house, keeping the otherwise blazing company hushed as embers. I, for once, clear tables without having to dodge wandering hands. On other nights, the unfortunate dusutri whose hands don’t make contact discover my second job manifested by throat chokes and body hauls out the door.

“Kingdom will soon get what they deserve equalizing with animals,” Haraniah says as I enter the kitchen, hefting my tray onto the sink.

I lean back against the sink and chug a glass of water to keep my tongue from arguing. Two years of living in Forever Ice has still not desensitized my deep devotion to the Kingdom I crave every day to return to. It’s because of my love for the Kingdom I remain and feed Torc Thoraus constant updates on Nightmare activity on the occasions they aligned with the dusutri.

The dwarves invented a time plate that relies on atmospheric light output to figure the time, but the droogs fashioned a complex device with whirling gears and weights to keep track of the hours. The droog’s time-weight anchored to the wall of the warming house strikes nine with a loud bell.

I grab my coat and leave, cinching tight my furs when I step into the cutting, ear-biting wind shrieking across the tundra. Dusutris’ hot blood finds relief in this cold, but my human blood never stays warm. Though now touching spring, snow drifts from the leaden skies.

I walk away from the warming house, steam belching out of the exhaust ports in the roof. The curling wisps finger toward the black-ice sky shattered with whorls of starlight. Ice-capped mountains shoulder ice and snow. Old pine boughs layer the frozen road, marking the left and right limits to the log-built living house I share with my aunt, who is the sister to my deceased dusutri mother.

I enter the soothing heat emanating from the fire roaring from the deep, stone-lined pit centered in the single room. Aunt Mordabur is bent over her workbench in the corner, stamping the leather clamped to the bench with a rawhide maul and awl. She acknowledges my entry with a companionable nod and resumes. My uncle sits in front of the fire, blowing on his three-tiered bone flute to the crackle of the flames.

This family comfort rips into me. I hide my strained mouth when I turn my back to undress for bed. I crave to return to the Kingdom, but I dread leaving my family in Forever Ice.

Family. Who accepts my human half despite the Kingdom will not accept my dusutri.

I lay in bed and ache for the time when the dusutri will let go of their bias against equality, for the Kingdom to lower their pride, and I could live with my dusutri family inside the Kingdom. My fears circle dusutri rumors which bet the Nightmares will crush the Kingdom with the dusutri’s help. If it comes to war, what side will I choose?

The answer to that question terrifies me. I push it away and nestle under the heavy furs and leathers.

I wake in the morning with the same unabated ache, stinging deeper as I watch Uncle sing as he cooks breakfast over the fire. He sees I’ve stirred awake and he lifts his tattooed face and smiles. My naked feet touch the cold pine wood floor. I sit across from the fire and join in singing the dusutri family love song with him.

No distance, nor time, will sunder you from mine

Uncle keeps the rhythm in place by the methodical cues of his cooking, the long sizzle as he slaps raw walrus meat onto the fryer, the pop of pine cones splitting open. He snaps his fingers and stomps his foot and sails into the next verse alongside me.

No sin, nor transgression, will lessen my affection

We reach the chorus. Uncle pulls out his bone flute. I finish on solo.

My home fires will burn, until the Paragons return

And Oath Ghosts will die, before I say goodbye

This is your home, kin, this is your home.

I don’t accuse myself of being a good singer, but Uncle assures the quality doesn’t matter, only mandates that singing accompany the cooking so the Aspect Warrior God Crimstone will bless vitals into the meat to continue nurturing the Dusutri Rage.

Dusutri Rage…a skill inherent in all dusutri. Except me. Oh, I know I have it, this untapped skill simmering under my skin, but I smothered it. Killed it. Because releasing it will force me to forever sacrifice the half that makes me human. Of my three greatest desires — human, family, Kingdom — being fully human dominates the list. I will physically never achieve full human, but nothing on Eloshonna can force me to erase this desired half.

From outside, and growing in volume, a young dusutri girl shouts: “The caravan approaches! The caravan approaches!”

For unfounded, unreasonable reasons I fear name, my chest clinches with hot anxiety. I visit the caravan every three months, but unexpected yearning powers me this time. I crave to reach the caravan now, but it won’t arrive until nightfall.

I finish breakfast with a tight gut and dress for work, leaving the living house into the blushing morning, the rising sun splicing the tundra into pink crystalline pieces.

The number of patrons at the warming house increase throughout the afternoon, all arriving from higher up the tundra to visit the coming caravan. Every realm, both in and outside the Kingdom, enjoys the caravan enough to grant the visit its own realm-wide holiday.

But for the dusutri, it’s not so much the dancing caravan horses, or the R’th-powered light display, or even the merchandise from every realm delivered for their convenience (necessary for their quality of life, unable to harvest most flora on their perma-frozen tundra). I understand, after two years, that dusutri flock to the caravan for hope.

The Kingdom remains rooted, satisfied knowing who their enemies are. The dusutri deny joining the Kingdom because they hold inflated opinions that they — descended from humans — were procreated from the Paragons, the same belief the Nightmares have enforced the last two years.

Dusutri approve of the Nightmares, but only because they dared tear the fabric blinding the Kingdom who sightlessly fashioned rules about equality, manipulating everyone to believe no one is, nor could anyone, achieve greatness above the line they had drawn.

Dusutri animosity toward the Kingdom sinks no deeper; they want friendly relations but refuse to sacrifice their achievements to a master who erases the proof without discretion. They flock to the caravan for the symbolic hope that, like the diverse range of races in the caravan prohibiting animosity from both sides, Mortal Earth can coexist with no one bowing to or receiving from the obligations dictated by mortal minds.

The cold sun cuts harsh shadows through the evening. Businesses close early, dusutri mounting their musk oxen while others gather in family groups and follow the east road beyond the border of Forever Ice. I’m the only traveler under heavy furs to keep warm. All others expose bare arms and heads like humans might in summer’s heat. My dusutri resiliency enables me to survive extreme cold, but my human half prohibits me from doing so without pain.

The elevated tundra plunges; a broad road switch-backing to handle the decline. Warming weather accompanies the drop and I remove my fur hat and open my coat. Those on oxen reach the caravan road before those on foot, who arrive twenty minutes later. The caravan arrives within the following hour, and I still enjoy their choreographed entrance even though I’ve seen it every three months for the last eighteen years.

The wagons circle. Stop. They drop the wagon sides and dusutri gush forward. I persist to the front of the deluge and reach the Human Realm wagon first. “Markie!”

The human man — Cohthel’s stepfather — grins. His hair is gray, but youthful eyes correct any wrong guesses about his actual age of mid-thirties. He accepts my handshake and the paper I slide into his palm. He pockets the paper so smoothly no one watching could guess we’d exchanged anything.

Two years ago when Torc Thoraus hired me as his spy, he did so with no planning, only that it needed to be done despite unforeseen complications. I integrated into dusutri life without knowing how to pass my discovered information back to the Kingdom.

Cohthel introduced Markie to me two years ago when Cohthel ran away and joined the caravan for a single cycle. Markie’s next rotation, I emboldened and took him into my confidence, asking if he’d ferry my messages back to the Kingdom.

“Hiya, Mianda,” Sycain, Markie’s cart companion, greets with a handsome wave. I met Sycain the same day Cohthel, two years ago, traveled with her with the caravan. Sycain is the only attendant in the caravan aside from Caravan Master Kitannia who forgoes his three-month break in Malandore, remaining on permanent rotation. We discovered a companionable friendship with each other during the caravan stops when Markie was off his cycle. Sycain maintains a misplaced infatuation with the caravan master even if I — nor any other sane kindred — can fathom why.


“How are you?” Markie asks.

“Missing home. Like always.” I hate how “home” and “family” are not synonymous for me.

“I have good news for you.”


“My son returned.”

“Cohthel?” Someone framed Cohthel two years ago for kidnapping two dragon eggs. Torc Thoraus sentenced him to death for the crime he didn’t commit, but Cohthel escaped using his invisibility and went straightaway to the Bladehand Towers. “He…” I fear ask, worried Cohthel spent two years only to fail, fearing even more that he… “graduated?”

“So he says in his letters. His last letter came three days ago saying he left the Towers.” He shakes his head, mouth a grim line. Slips of his hair frame both eyes, the rest braided behind his head. “I’m already planning on not seeing him right away when I return to Malandore. I didn’t see my family either when I graduated. Didn’t want to admit to my family that final scar I’d have to live with.” He turns away to complete a transaction, resuming his cheery attitude as he accepts the dusutri currency of small wooden cubes shot-through with a rod of walrus ivory for a spool of human-made linen — dusutri appreciate the softer fabric for soaking in the hot baths and sleeping.

I step away to give him space, looking at the social interactions between the dusutri and Kingdom realms. Armistice exists here, not unlike a polar bear and reindeer arriving at the drinking hole at the same time will drink without other motives.

A muscled dusutri male flirts with the elven female attending her cart, building for me, in my mind, the scenario of how my human father fell in love with my dusutri mother. I, too, don’t itch with compulsion to marry within my race — either race. Elves claim the rights as the most beautiful kindred on Mortal Earth, and my attraction toward them pleads no exception.

Markie’s customers move off and I again steal his attention. “Are the Nightmares as bad as the dusutris’ praise of them claim?”

“With no exaggeration. If Torc Thoraus hadn’t erected his wall and implemented the identification system you suggested, the Human Realm would have seceded from the Kingdom under Nightmare control a year ago. Not only Nightmares, but that rogue group of bandits calling themselves the Entangling Crow have made a re-emergence to take advantage of the lawlessness outside Malandore’s wall. It’s a daily guess how much longer the Human Realm can hold. All the torcs have petitioned Caravan Master Kitannia to…” Markie’s gaze flicks side-to-side as if about to commit blasphemy, “park her caravan.”


“Can you blame them? There aren’t enough bladehands for those wanting protection for travel, and that’s just kindred who dare carry a single bag. With the rise of this conflict, kindred purchase weapons and armor with equal eagerness as candy and Kitannia is capitalizing on it. She’s become a walking armory, free for whoever dares take it.”

“They asked, but she refused?”

Markie points to the lowered wagon side. If I’d paid attention to more than what Markie would say next about the Kingdom I miss so much, I would have seen the notice glued there:

Attention Kindred in all 12 realms:

The Trading Cycle is hiring armed escorts. Accepting any race with any skill. Must provide your own armor, weapon, and horse. Hiring will commence on the outside northwestern edge of the Human Realm on the 14th of Falkon.

“She ignores the controversy about hiring the very realms who threaten the Human Realm,” Markie says when I read and re-read the notice, desire flaring hot inside my thundering chest, “reminding everyone that the Kingdom does not own her. She hires dusutri and dark elves because only a dark elf can detect another dark elf and only a dusutri can counter another Dusutri’s Rage.”

I lift my gaze and step back in hazy submission. “This…is all shocking.”

“Yes. Until the Kingdom learns how to penetrate the Dream and capture the Dreamer, inter-realm relations will continue to decrease. Can’t say what the answer is on how to survive until then.”


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