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Paragon Ruin, Chapter 6


Atalixsphere and I take turns keeping vigil all night; sleeping and adding wood to the fire. Neleci rises from a fitful sleep, ignoring us both and inching ever closer to the fire. She accepts her breakfast in silence.

“Did my compelling argument last night convince you to leave the Nightmares?” I ask.


I sigh in defeat, setting down my wood bowl and rising with a stretch. “Well…then I guess I have no choice but to take you back.”

Her head shoots up, eyes flicking side-to-side. “Take me back? Just like that?”

“I’m not willing to join the Nightmares and you’re not willing to change your mind. I had supplied this camp for a single night only. I can’t hold you long term. I tried and failed. You win. So I have no choice but to take you back.”

She smiles with a little rocking of her chin.

With somber ceremony, I put out the fire and Atalixsphere helps break down the camp into tight bundles for easy transport we’ll come back for later. I ready Neleci for travel: a thick coat and thick wool socks for her bare feet.

The pegasi transfigures out of common, assuming her white feathered wings again. I saddle her and mount, buckling into the saddle. I motion for Neleci and pull her in front of me since the saddle has only one buckle and I need it for me. Atalixsphere lifts into a crystalline spring morning and soars over the treetops.

Neleci sighs in satisfaction, leaning against me without any warmth to the gesture. “I’ll convince Thaen not to be so hard on you since you’re returning me.”


“Why don’t you stay in camp for a day or two? Hear the testimony of others.”

“Will their testimonies be as compelling as yours last night?”

“You’ll hear testimonies from those who chose to leave the Kingdom. Being kidnapped was not my choice, but accepting the Dreamer’s promise was.”

“You’re not afraid of me joining the Nightmares just to get close enough to kill the Dreamer?”

“The Dreamer can only die if he has a body, and that won’t be for a long while yet, years even. So, no, I’m not afraid of you killing him. But I am afraid you are smothering your self-worth by denying what the Paragon’s intended for you.”

Several moments lapse in silence. Neleci takes more interest in the landscape below, likely feeling that our current flight toward camp is taking longer than the flight last night out of camp. The rising sun becomes her first clue.

“Are we flying northeast?”


“Camp is west.”

“I know.”

Her black hair lashes left and right as she fights to get her barrings and find understanding. “So why are we not flying west?”

“Why would I fly west?”

“Why would — you said you were taking me back to camp.”

“I did not.”

“You did!”

“I said I was taking you back. I never said ‘back to camp’. I’m sorry you misunderstood.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“Back to Malandore.”

She screeches so loudly that Atalixsphere’s muscles flinch beneath me. Neleci turns in my arms and batters me with her hands. I tap Atalixsphere’s flanks with my heels and the pegasi punches forward, up, tucks in her wings, and spins into a barrel roll. Neleci — not buckled into the saddle — screams and drops. I clench a handful of her bodice, my other arm fastening around her torso. The buckle on the saddle tightens across my thighs as my body hangs.

Atalixsphere finishes her roll, snaps out her wings, and flies level. Neleci hits the saddle hard and upside down, burying my head with her skirt. She spins in tight circles on the base of Atalixsphere’s neck, uprighting herself and clinging to me, gasping and shaking.

“Take more care, Neleci. These wind currents are unpredictable and you’re not buckled in.”

“I hate you!”

“You’re welcome to dismount at any point.”

She sobs though I can’t guess why. “You can’t take me to Malandore.”


“I need to go back to camp. Thaen is due back tomorrow.”

“He’ll know what happened to you. That’s why I let you scream when I took you and made sure witnesses watched. Everyone knows what happened to you.”

“You don’t understand. I need to go back to camp.”

“I know you do.”

“No. I have to go back.”

“I know.”

“You don’t understand!”

“You swore allegiance to the Dreamer. I know.”

“That’s not why!”


“I have to go back.”

“Why? Did you leave the stew on the fire?”

She whimpers and nestles into her coat, ceasing to say anything more all the way to Malandore.


I timed our two-day flight to land in Malandore in the middle of the night. The night I kidnapped Neleci, the falkon who had been waiting at my camp flew ahead of us to set in motion Prodigal Neleci’s return. Seeing R’th light glowing atop Malandore’s Castle roof as Atalixsphere angles downward proves all my planning still holds forth. Once I deliver Neleci, however, my planning will turn into gambles — gambling on the raw emotions of Neleci and her father.

Not yet trusting Thoraus to receive Neleci, I contacted Neleci’s twelve-year-old sister, Ahinoam, and her mother, Kessna, to meet Neleci on the roof. They will then, in the way only they know best, inform Thoraus of her return. Mother and child stand in the direct light of the R’th rock resting in a large bowl, cloaked from head to foot in white wool.

“I have to go back,” Neleci says for the first time in two days though I attempted many times to engage her. Her delivery comes forth weak and defeated. “Please, Cohthel.”

I don’t respond. I can be petty, too, and refuse to talk.

Atalixsphere’s hooves crack on the frozen white stone, hot plumes fogging in front of her pulsating nostrils, gusting side-to-side as her wings move to make way for my dismount. I unbuckle and land on the roof, reaching back for Neleci. She slides off the other side away from me, making no sound in her socks when she lands.

Kessna gushes forward, reaching. “Neleci!”

Neleci stands rigid, head bent, as her mother embraces her, folding her inside the warmth of her wool cloak. I didn’t realize I held my breath, waiting for Neleci’s returned embrace. I can control everything physics allows me to touch, but the Paragons let emotions loose on the wind to confuse, enrage, and frustrate kindredkind.

Neleci, arms limp as a wizened carrot, lift around her mother’s back. Ahinoam joins the circle. Atalixsphere and I back away to the far end of the roof. I sit on the balustrade, rubbing my fur mittens together, watching the group speak in quiet tones and — I hope — making Neleci feel welcomed home.

Markie, in one of his letters, taught me a dusutri family love song Mianda taught Markie:

No distance, nor time, will sunder you from mine

No sin, nor transgression, will lessen my affection

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.

Dusutri don’t care how bloody, depressed, broken, sick, or evil you are, they always welcome their family home. This echoes earlier thoughts Markie taught me during my time in the caravan: Wouldn’t we be more productive if we celebrated change than to punish it? If we encouraged those changing for the better, we’d see the day when hostilities stopped.

Which is why I brought Neleci home. I hope reintegrating her will be enough, but I doubt it. You can remove the human out of the Nightmares. I face a separate challenge removing the Nightmare from the human. I’ll go next after Thaen. And Rodrue. Will pull the Nightmares apart at the strings until they unravel. And next? Find common ground for the dusutri, dark elves, and droogs to join the Kingdom too, combining knowledge so humans, too, can develop a culture where we sing family love songs and welcome our prodigals home.

Rescuing her, I am now more wholesome, more complete, like I’m not missing half my face. Rescuing Father will be the final bandage to making my dreaded bladehand worth something.

If I knew there was a family love song awaiting me with Mother and Markie, I would have gone home myself already.

But right now is enough, because Neleci gives in to her mother and sister’s pulling, and follows them through the hatch in the roof.

“Should have let me stomp her face into the ground,” Atalixsphere says. “Can we go now? She is not worth this cold.”

I kidnapped Neleci unaware Thaen was closer than I planned. Now I plan, not ashamed of using Neleci as bait.


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