Aoife took a long, last look at the elven gardens beyond the gilded frame of her bedroom window. She would miss walking through the flowers and trees, just as she would miss the comfortable beauty of her home. If she hadn’t been granted the honor of marrying the next Chronicler, she would be happy to live out her life in the courts of Fil-Gambor with her brothers.
Maebh, her lady-in-waiting, rapped on the door. “The pod is almost ready,” she said. “Your Lady-Mother asked me to make sure that you are fully prepared to meet your husband.”
Aoife walked to the mirror, examining the jeweled headdress that held back the piles of her hair so that all could see the perfect points of her ears. It was a visible proof of her pure-blood status, as was her delicate, pale frame. The next Chronicler would have no doubts of her worth. She smiled and smoothed down the soft green silks of her flowing dress. “What do you think?”
“I think he’s going to take one look at your beautiful golden red hair and fall deeply in love.”
Aoife laughed. “You think he’ll fall in love with my hair?”
“Either your hair or your emerald green eyes.” Maebh put her hands on her hips and eyed Aoife speculatively. “You did a great job of accentuating your features. I’m jealous.”
“Then I’m ready.” Aoife glanced around her empty bedroom and sighed wistfully. Then she shook her head and spun out of the room, with Maebh close behind her.
The processional pod was waiting at the bottom of the marble steps. Her three brothers sat astride white Arabian horses, flanking the hovering golden ball that was the centerpiece of the procession. Her parents rode behind the ball, both riding trained gryphons. There were other members of the elfin court in the procession, each dressed in their finest, and riding a beast befitting their ranks. A footman opened the door to the golden ball and helped Aoife and Maebh climb into the velvet seats inside. The girls giggled excitedly as the ball began to move, and Aoife grabbed her friend’s hand nervously. Her new life was about to begin!
By all accounts, her future husband was a good elf. His name was Chroniclus XXXII; his father was the Head Chronicler of Mid-Realm Academy. Her Chroniclus had spent his first two centuries on Mid-Realm as well, studying the workings of the Böchard, a vast library that collected and stored the written works of the world, but he had come to Anrachel to help establish Vermifiut Academy. Aoife had hoped they would be introduced as soon as the academy opened, but the court had decided that it was best to allow the elf to concentrate on his work. Aoife had asked for news of him every day, and she had learned that he had befriended several members of other species, as well as had excelled in his coursework. She hadn’t heard a single negative thing about him, and while that was good, it did make her more than a little nervous. Would someone so perfect accept her?
Aoife wrestled with her vying emotions for the next two hours as the pod traveled from Fil-Gambor to the Vermifiut Academy. She heard trumpets and a gate opening, as well as someone announcing their arrival. She squeezed Maebh’s hand. The pod moved forward more slowly now, accompanied by a grand musical performed by the court musicians. Aoife had selected the music herself; she hoped her Chroniclus liked it. Then the pod stopped. Maebh squeezed her hand and half-giggled, half-squealed. Aoife held her breath. The door to the ball opened, and the footman held his hand out to her.
Aoife stepped out with practiced grace, keeping her eyes low as she emerged, raising her gaze with sultry allure to where her Chroniclus should be waiting on the steps. Then she blinked. Her Chroniclus was not a centaur, he was an elf! But there wasn’t a single elf there to meet her. She felt a surge of panic, and reached back for Maebh’s hand. Where was her Chroniclus?
The centaur who had been standing in Chroniclus’s spot trotted forward and bowed. “Greetings, Lady Aoife of Fil-Gambor. I am Head Master Atleus, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to Vermifiut Academy. Unfortunately, Chroniclus is not here at this time. My humblest apologies for this error.”
“Where is he?” Aoife asked. “Is he inside studying?”
A selarthin tried to suppress a chortle and failed. Head Master Atleus shot the him a reproving glare, and then he turned back to the procession. “Chroniclus went out for additional training a few days ago, and he is simply late in returning. But do not fear; he is safe, and he is in good company. Chroniclus will return soon. In the meantime, we have a feast prepared in the main hall. Please join us. Lady Aoife, the seat of honor waits for you.”
Aoife’s stomach dropped, but she forced herself to smile graciously. “Thank you for your hospitality, Head Master.”
Atleus led them inside and the procession took their positions around the banquet tables. The food was delicious, but it couldn’t tempt Aoife. She kept her eyes on the windows, watching for any sign of Chroniclus’s return.
After two hours, a selarthin came and whispered something in Atleus’s ear. Atleus dismissed himself and cantered out of the room. Aoife sneaked after him, hiding behind corners as she followed the centaur’s progress. Her suspicion proved to be correct; Atleus was going outside to greet a small group of returning students. Aoife stayed inside, watching from a window to make sure that it was Chroniclus returning, and not some other tardy person.
The group came from the skies, two riders on the backs of two dragons, one white, one red. The dragons were performing barrel rolls, dipping and diving in a magnificent aerial performance as their riders whooped and hollered. Then they seemed to catch sight of the waiting centaur and stopped their performance, landing tamely in the grass courtyard.
The riders dismounted and removed the saddles so the dragons could shift from their lizard form to their lesser human shapes. The red rider was an elf, tall, with silver hair and silver eyes. It was Chroniclus—it had to be! Or was it? The red dragon turned into a young woman with fiery red hair, and the elf draped his arm around her shoulder in an all-too-friendly manner. Aoife tried to swallow the ball of dread in her throat as she turned to the other rider. It was a selarthin woman with red golden hair similar to Aoife’s own, and her draconic partner turned into a very white young man with equally white hair. Neither of them was Chroniclus, and the elf was still holding the dragon woman. Aoife felt sick.
“You’re late,” Atleus scolded.
“For what?” The elf asked.
“Your wife,” Atleus answered. “The processional pod from Fil-Gambor arrived two hours ago, and they’re awaiting your arrival in the banquet hall.”
The selarthin woman suddenly looked very uncomfortable, and she and the white dragon exchanged looks. The woman at Chroniclus’s side, however, looked unimpressed.
Chroniclus scowled. “I don’t have a wife.”
“Chroniclus, we’ve talked about this. You have responsibilities to Mid-Realm and the Böchard legacy. A wife has been chosen for you, and you were to spend your last five years here with her, getting to know and love her. She’s a beautiful young elf—a red head! You like those.”
The woman snorted derisively.
“I like a red head,” Chroniclus snapped, moving his arm from the woman’s shoulder to her waist. “It’s not a fetish! And I’m not going to your banquet. Whatever elf they dolled up to tempt me can just go back to Fil-Gambor. I already have a girlfriend.” He and his girlfriend brushed past the Head Master and walked into the Academy.
Aoife turned as they walked into the hall, holding her breath as Chroniclus caught sight of her. The couple stopped and stared at her.
“Are you Aoife?” Chroniclus asked quietly.
She nodded, not daring to answer. Her heart felt brittle, held intact only by a thread of hope. Chroniclus and the woman looked at each other, then Chroniclus peeled away from her and took a step toward Aoife.
“I’m sorry you came all this way,” he said politely. “I’m sorry if this hurts you, but I have no intention of marrying you. So please, don’t waste your time pining for me. Go back home. Find someone else. I wish you happiness.” He bowed then went back to the woman, taking her hand and leading her down the hall, away from the banquet table.
Aoife leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths in an attempt to control the threatening tears. Atleus and Chroniclus’s companions were lingering in the doorway, watching her.
Aoife pulled herself together and faced the centaur. “Who is she?”
Atleus dismissed the remaining couple, but they left slowly, casting curious looks over their shoulders. The Head Master waited for them to be out of even the selarthin’s hearing before answering, “She is Agrona, youngest of the Fire King’s clutch. Please don’t blame this fiasco on her. Agrona was oblivious to the traditions of Mid-Realm and Vermifiut until recently.”
“And Chroniclus? Did he know about me?”
“He was never fond of marrying someone picked out for him.”
Aoife sank to the floor and wiped at her eyes.
Atleus pawed at the marble floor. “I’m sorry, Lady Aoife. You don’t deserve this. I shall have your party prepare for departure. I’m sure that you don’t want to stay here any longer than you have to.”
Aoife covered her mouth. She had been rejected by the most prominent, most powerful elf in all of Anrachel, and he had chosen a dragon over her. If she returned home, she would be a disgrace—a laughing stock! She faced the centaur. “Thank you for the offer, Head Master, but I believe arrangements had been made for me to continue at Vermifiut Academy. I wish to remain here. If Chroniclus is truly averse to marrying someone he doesn’t know, then let him get to know me. I’m sure he’ll realize my worth soon.”
“If that is your wish, my lady, but may I be frank? Don’t get your hopes up.”
Aoife’s heart shattered, but she didn’t let it show. “Thank you for your opinion, Head Master. Do you have a room ready for me?”
“If you will return to the banquet, I will have one prepared.”
Aoife nodded and rejoined the festivities, but she still couldn’t eat. And she didn’t tell anyone that she had been rejected.
The Fil-Gambor procession partied for three days, but Chroniclus never made an appearance. Two of his companions appeared on the second day, introducing themselves as Shyftin, Crown Prince of the Versian Realms, and as Scota, future Seeress of Mid-Realm Academy, and they made a general excuse for Chroniclus’s absence. The courtiers were annoyed by his absence, but Aoife backed up the claims that Chroniclus was ill, and reassured them that she had met her future husband and spoken with him. Scota, the selarthin, raised an eyebrow at this, but Shyftin smoothly agreed with her. Then the procession returned to Fil-Gambor, taking Maebh with them, and Aoife lost her distractions.
Over the next seven months, Aoife threw herself into the course work of the Vermifiut Academy. She studied the politics of the other nations, the delicate fruit production on the Charfias continent, and the diplomacy efforts between the Versian Realms and Ut’Zaro. She also learned more of the workings of Mid-Realm Academy, and of the oligarchical relationship between the Seer and the Chronicler. Her favorite class was weapons training. It was the only time she could truly forget her troubles. She would tie her hair back, don her training armor, and hack, shoot, and punch things as hard and as often as she liked. It was relaxing.
The periods in between classes miserable. It felt as though Aoife was fated to cross paths with Chroniclus in the halls, and Chroniclus always had that dragon with him. Their arms were always around each other’s waists, and they always had their heads close together, talking in close, comfortable whispers as they walked. Chroniclus never seemed to see Aoife standing there, watching, but Aoife knew that Agrona saw her. Aoife didn’t know what to do, and one day it was too much. She ditched her class on classic elvish drama and ran into the courtyard, crying.
“Don’t cry for him,” a voice said from behind her.
She hiccupped and quickly rubbed her eyes, turning to confront the speaker. It was Shyftin. Aoife looked around, trying to see if there were any other witnesses. They were alone. She wiped at her eyes again, trying to stem the flow of tears, but they wouldn’t stop.
“Seriously,” Shyftin said, handing her a kerchief, “he’s not worth your time.”
“Isn’t he? I only spent the last two centuries being specifically groomed to be his wife; I should hope he was worth all that effort!”
“He’s really not. Nick can be pretty self-absorbed, and he’s a little vain. I could name five elves at this school that are better than him. And if you want to broaden your scope, I know seven selarthins, three dragons, and a centaur, and they’re all better than Nick.”
She passed back the kerchief. “Are you one of the dragons?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Technically yes, but I’m already taken, sorry.”
Aoife sniffled, but refused the hanky when he held it out to her again. “What do you do when you lose your purpose in life?”
“Well, crying is an admirable start.”
She glared at him.
Shyftin raised his hands defensively. “I’m serious! Disappointment is rough, and it’s okay to cry. And when the tears are gone, sit down, eat some food, and take a breath. Then start again.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know. Just give yourself time, and don’t waste anymore on Nick.”
Aoife looked down at the grass. How could she just give up after two hundred years of waiting? She had been raised and specifically trained to work alongside her Chroniclus in the Böchard, and then some lizard waltzes in and thinks she can replace her on a whim? It wasn’t fair!
Shyftin watched her thoughtfully. “I haven’t seen you with anyone the entire time you’ve been at the academy. Haven’t you made any friends?”
Aoife folded her arms and looked away.
The dragon accepted that as her answer and looked up at the sky. “Aggie is going to kill me for even offering, but would you like to join our table for dinner?”
“You want me to join you?”
“Yes. You should have friends, and maybe if you get to know Nick for yourself, you’ll realize you don’t want him.”
She raised an eyebrow at the absurdity of that suggestion, but she nodded. “Thank you. I would love to join you.”
“Good. I’ll give Aggie and Nick the heads up so they can brace themselves. Are you going to be okay out here?”
Aoife shrugged. “Let the gryphons eat me. At this point, I don’t even care.”
“Okay, but you might want to warn them about your salt levels before they start eating. I worry about their sodium levels sometimes.” He grinned, bowed, and sauntered back inside.
Aoife made a face at his back. She sighed and knelt in the grass, running her hands over the green blades as the wind stirred the air. She appreciated Shyftin’s offer, and she fully intended to take him up on it, but it would be hard. Eating with Chroniclus would mean sitting with the dragoness that had stolen him. She mildly wondered if Fias dragons were vulnerable to any particular kinds of poison, then banished the thought from her head. Killing the competition was no way to win. Aoife sighed with regret and walked back into the halls of Vermifiut Academy.
The dinner bell rang. Aoife retrieved her meal, and cast around for Chroniclus’s table. Shyftin waved to her from across the room, and she walked over, faltering only slightly when Chroniclus and Agrona glared at her. The other woman, the selarthin Scota, smiled nervously as Aoife sat down, and Aoife tried to pretend she was actually welcome.
“You-you missed a great lesson, Aoife,” Scota attempted. “Professor Sempadora went over the tragedy of Letholia, and she even had a few students act it out.”
Aoife nodded. “I’m not too worried about that tragedy. My trainer in Fil-Gambor made sure I memorized Letholia.” She looked at Chroniclus. “It was your father’s favorite play, wasn’t it?”
Agrona snorted into her cup, her lips twitching at the corners. “Ron actually likes Letholia? That’s the lamest of Wennas’s plays!”
“It is beautiful and deep,” Aoife corrected. “Keloryn’s love for Letholia is a testament to true romance. But I suppose you prefer his simpler plays, like Pylos V or Andreogas and the Dragon King?”
“Andreogas is pretty offensive to dragon-kind, so, no, I don’t like that one. And I personally don’t like Wennas’s plays, Letholia just happens to be the worst one. I like Anniron’s adventure Ring Quest, and Thriond’s historical saga Reign of Stone. But if you want to take a moment to acknowledge that elves aren’t the only playwrights, then perhaps you’ll consider the selarthin Nergual and his play Falling Stars? Or what about the centaur Cipius and his play, Death of Shadows? Or would you consider the draconian playwright Asclomis and her contribution The Follies of Ut’Zaro?”
“To be fair,” Shyftin said, casually leaning on the table, “The Follies of Ut’Zaro is several hours long, and it drags quite a bit. Points for history and big words, though.”
Agrona half-smiled at the prince then refocused her attention on the elf. “Thoughts?”
Aoife tore into her cheese bitterly. She let her eyes wander to Chroniclus and felt her heart sink when she saw him scowling into his cup. Agrona noticed, too, and she put a hand on his arm. He looked at her, and his expression softened. Aoife turned away.
Shyftin coughed. “I don’t suppose anyone would be up to a moonlit flight?”
“I can’t,” Chroniclus said. “My father wants me back on Mid-Realm tonight. The training season is starting over, and I’m to be there to initiate the new recruits.”
“You’re leaving?” Aoife asked. “So soon? How long will you be gone?”
“Only a couple of days.” He looked at Agrona. “Atleus and Chelan told me about it at my last class, or I would have told you sooner.”
Agrona tugged his hair fondly. “Chelan does love to spring surprises on us. But they’re your parents, and you have responsibilities. I’ll find some way to manage without you.” She suddenly jumped toward Shyftin. “Hey, my boyfriend’s hopping off-world tonight. You want to go hunting?”
At first, Aoife was horrified, and she didn’t know who to look at first, Chroniclus or Scota. But all four seemed to take her suggestion like a joke!
“I’m still going to be here,” Scota teased, grabbing Shyftin’s arm and making a playfully pouty face.
“Psst, Chroniclus! Take her with you!” Shyftin pretended to whisper, pointing at his girlfriend.
“No thanks,” Chroniclus laughed. “My parents are tired of me bringing unsolicited women home.”
“And, technically, I do have my own invitation,” Scota sighed, releasing her dragon and tucking her hair behind her ear. “I’m just choosing to ignore it.”
“Good.” Shyftin twined his fingers around hers. “Every time you come back from MRA, you have nightmares.”
“Mid-Realm Academy is a utopia,” Aoife sputtered. “Why should anyone have nightmares of that place?”
“Because it’s not a utopia,” Agrona said. “It’s just the gathering place of all the roughest, toughest, meanest beings in the universe. What makes you think that would be a utopia?”
“Because it’s a collection of all the beings in the universe co-existing?”
The other four exchanged glances. Chroniclus sighed as he gathered his tray. “Aggie, want to walk me home?”
“Do I get a kiss goodnight?”
“I’ll think about it.”
Aoife frowned. The way they were grinning, the way Chroniclus had his arm wrapped around Agrona’s waist, told her that it wasn’t really a question. She started to follow them, but Shyftin pulled her back into her seat.
“That’s not going to make him like you,” he said. “Just let him go.”
Aoife started to protest, then couldn’t find any words to use. She excused herself anyway, and hurried in the opposite direction. Aoife wandered into the library. Chelan, the dryad librarian, was stocking the shelves. He took note of her presence with a mild nod then continued with his work, leaving her to roam the stacks in peace. She found the drama section and started to pick one of Wennas’s plays, but then she spotted Nergual’s Falling Stars and hesitantly took it instead. She found a corner in the library and curled up with the book, surprised that the story could distract her so easily.
She didn’t notice Agrona’s presence until she finished the book, and she jumped when she saw the dragon’s blue eyes staring down at her.
Agrona smiled. “It’s good, isn’t it? I love how Nergual manages to capture selarthin society; the Sieyn clan really feels like a family. At least, they did to me.” She pushed Aoife’s feet to the side and tucked herself on the opposite side of the bench, a book propped on her knees. “What did you think?”
“It was good.” She cleared her throat and asked, “Why aren’t you with my Chroniclus?”
“Yes, my Chroniclus. He’s not betrothed to you, no matter how many times you make out.”
Agrona laughed. “If you want to be that way, fine—but we do ‘make out’ a lot.”
Aoife stood with a huff and started to storm away, but Agrona called out to her. “What is Chroniclus’s favorite dessert?”
Aoife hesitated. She didn’t know.
“It should be an easy question. I know you’ve been watching us, and he’s had it for the last three days.”
She thought back to the past few days, and though she could count the times the dragon and her elf had kissed, she couldn’t remember what they had been eating.
Agrona waited until Aoife sat back down in defeat to ask another question, “Why do you want him so badly? Isn’t there someone else for you to love?”
“I saved myself for him.”
The other girl’s lips formed a small “o,” and she sat back against the wall. “I arrived at the school early and decided to help Chroniclus set up the library. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with him,” she said softly. “I didn’t know about you until a few weeks later when Atleus caught us kissing. Then all the beans were dumped out on the table, and Chroniclus and I talked out the situation.”
“Situation? Such a mild word for betrayal. Infidelity. Unfaithful.”
“Yes.” Agrona studied her hands absently. “I can’t imagine how hurt you were. I know no apology could ever make it ‘better,’ especially since I’m not sorry. I love Chroniclus, and I’m not about to give him up, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do something else.”
“Well, what do you want to do with your life?”
“I want to marry the future Chronicler of Mid-Realm and bear his children.”
“Is that the only thing you want to do?”
“Only? Do you realize how much that single desire entails? Do you understand how much pressure the Head Chronicler is under every day? Chroniclus will have many high-profile duties, and that will wear down on him consistently. I can see no greater purpose than to be his strength and ensure the future of the Böchard.”
“Oh sure, being a wife and a mother is important and great, but it’s going to take at least nine months to have kids. Chroniclus isn’t even going to be chronicling right away. What will you do until then?”
“I-I never thought of that.”
Agrona smiled. “There’s more to life than marriage and kids.”
Aoife rubbed the fabric of her dress between her fingers. “So what are you going to do between marriage and kids?”
“We’re going to enroll in Mid-Realm Academy together, get fully trained, and help a few people before retiring to a life of books and bliss. Chroniclus has already pulled some strings to secure our place as soon as we graduate from Vermifiut.”
“I thought you said the Academy was horrible?”
“I said it wasn’t a utopia, and that it’s filled with mean, rough beings, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. The Academy serves an important purpose, and I want to be a part of that. And Chroniclus thinks it’ll be a good idea for him to learn how to fight, considering his elevated position. And we both want to see the different worlds, and help people.”
Aoife pulled herself into a tight ball and buried her face in her knees.
“Hey.” Agrona touched her head, encouraging her to look up again. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Is it? I’ve given everything up to be here, to win back my husband, and if anything, I’m alienating him more. I want to hate him, hate you, but that’s not going to fix anything. I don’t know what to do anymore!”
Agrona shifted in her seat. “You could always marry Chelan. He’s a catch.”
Aoife threw a book at her.
“I’m sorry! I just don’t know what else you would want.” Agrona slid off the bench and inched away. “I really am sorry. I didn’t mean to make it worse. I’ll leave you alone now.”
Aoife didn’t want to be left alone, but she didn’t want Agrona around either. She hiccupped as she cried, wallowing in her self-pity. She had no friends in Vermifiut, and no reason to stay. She had no reason to leave, either. Her family would be ashamed of her failure, and she would lose her status in the court. She had no options left to her, except one. There was no point in crying anymore, so she dried her tears and left the library.
The walls surrounding Vermifiut Academy were tall, and the north side overlooked the sea. She stared down at the waves crashing against the cliff, smelling the salt in the air. A pair of gulls swooped up from the waves and spiraled above the walls, calling to each other. Aoife watched them jealously, letting her mind wander to her lost future, then she leapt over the battlements. The end of her pointless life raced up to her, roaring hungrily. Something else roared above her, and she was suddenly plucked from the sea spray and carried to the cliffs beyond the wall.
A red dragon set her gently in the grass, but Aoife tried desperately to throw herself off the cliffs again. And again, the dragon snatched her out of the air, this time placing herself between the elf and the cliff.
“Aoife, stop it!” Agrona cried, her voice sounding harsh as she spread her wings, barring Aoife’s path. “This isn’t worth killing yourself over!”
“What do you know? You have everything! And you stole it all from me! Now you won’t even let me die. Just let me die!” She threw herself onto the ground and screamed her pain into the earth.
Agrona paced at the edge of the cliff, looking from the sea to the distraught elf. After a moment’s reflection, she folded her wings and turned back into her human form. She pulled Aoife into her arms and held her, crooning wordless comfort.
“Why won’t you let me die?” Aoife sobbed. “There’s nothing left for me here. Please, just let me end it.”
“End it? Aoife, you’re looking at this all wrong. This isn’t the end of your life, this is your chance to start over. For the last two hundred years people have been telling you that your only purpose is to be some elf’s wife, but now you get to make your own future. One door has been closed to you, but all of the windows are open.”
“What windows? Without Chroniclus, I have no reputation, no standing, nothing to build on. I am nothing without him.”
Agrona sighed. “You don’t need a husband to be important. I don’t know you very well, but I’m sure there’s more to you than a chronicler’s wife. Please, just think about it. What do you like to do in your free time?”
Aoife tried to think, and something did come to her mind. “I’m a decent fighter. It wasn’t part of my wifely training, it’s something I picked up here. I’m not quite proficient yet. But I do enjoy it.”
“That’s something. What’s your weapon of choice?”
“The sabre. It’s elegant, yet deadly.”
“I can see you becoming pretty good with a blade. Fearsome, even. You could be an assassin. Or a body guard. Or you could rejoin the Fil-Gambor courts as a warrior. Of course, the more weapons you use, the more marketable you become.”
“Marketable?” Aoife scoffed.
“I’m saying that you have options, and none of them require a husband—or even a boyfriend. All your future needs is you.”
Aoife sat up in her own power as she considered the dragon’s advice. The birdsong became clearer, and she saw an eagle watching them. It spread its wings and launched itself from the tree, alone, but nonetheless strong. She no longer smelled the salt of the ocean, and her heart began to calm.
“I don’t think I can be around you,” she whispered.
“Aoife,” Agrona began, but the elf raised a hand to hush her.
“It’s important,” she insisted. “You and Chroniclus are a constant reminder of what I lost, and if I’m to move on, I need to get away from that.”
“It’s a small school.”
“I know. That’s why I need to leave.” She stood and faced the woods. “You’re right. I have options, I have a future; I just need to find it. Will you pass on my resignation to Atleus?”
“You don’t want to gather your things first?”
“No. If I’m going to do this, I need to do it now, before I back down.”
Agrona looked at the woods then at the academy. “Aoife, I just pulled you off a cliff. I don’t know if you should be alone right now.”
Aoife took the dragoness’s hands and looked her in the eye. “Agrona, I swear I will come back, and when I return, I’ll be stronger. I’ll be my own person, and I will dance at your wedding. My life is my own, and I promise not to throw it away again.”
The dragoness nodded reluctantly. “All right, but at least take this.” She fished a spiked metal ball from her pouch and handed it to the elf. “I wish I had a better weapon to give you.”
“This will be enough. Thank you.” Aoife hugged her. “I will see you again someday. Please give Chroniclus my love.” She ran into the forest, away from her past, and toward a future she would carve for herself.
Agrona watched and prayed that someday the elf would keep her promise.