Jaral Strant, Mahre. Early Summer, Dragon’s Accord Year 307

“We’re still being watched.”

Sath followed Keris’ gaze into the port’s bustling crowd, where he saw absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. He turned back to her, “Are you sure?”

“They’re good at hiding,” his bodyguard responded.

“But you see them.”

“Not good enough,” she said, wrinkling her snout with a grin.

Sath shook his head and looked to the dockmaster, who was inspecting the offloaded cargo. “That should be all of it, thank you for your time. We expect it to be picked up before nightfall. This should cover the fees.” He held out a small bag of coins. Once he finished looking over the crates, the dockmaster accepted the bag and moved off to the next ship without a word.

“Rude,” Keris sniffed.

“Says the one glaring at strangers all day. Alright, point them out to me, if you’re so sure.”

“That might scare them away,” Keris said plaintively.

“Not if they actually have a job to do. Where are they?”

Keris huffed and pointed off into a nearby crowd. “Two in there, far enough back they’re difficult to make out, but they haven’t moved. Biggest mistake on their part.” she shifted her accusing hand to a nearby alley. “One’s in there, probably thinking we’ll take that way out to hit the industrial districts looking for buyers. He must not know we had a contact arranged before we pulled in.” Another alley, this one cleaner and emptier. “One more in there, but he isn’t with the rest, and only showed up recently. Probably just a merchant’s courier, looking to get your attention when you’re unoccupied.” Keris looked back to Sath and quirked her ears. “I can rough him up anyway, if you’d like?”

Sath leaned back against a stack of ore crates and sighed, one hand over his face. “No, that won’t be necessary, I trust your judgment. Save the fights for whatever arena you slink off to tonight.”

Keris looked back to the crowd and stiffened, thumping her tail against a box near Sath’s feet. “One of them is bold enough to come to us.”

Following her gaze, Sath saw a reytra emerge from the throng. He wore loose-fitting clothes of human style, but with the typical riotous colors and patterns reytra preferred; a stark contrast to Keris’ light and muted clothing. Three badges hung from a cord around his neck like over-sized charms.

Sath reached out and grabbed Keris’ shoulder, squeezing it. “Don’t worry, that’s our guy.”

Keris only relaxed when the newcomer spread his arms and fixed Sath with a warm grin, stopping just out of her reach. “It’s been too long, friend!”

“If Kaveh sends a different messenger every time, Keris is going to end up killing one of them sooner or later.” Sath stepped by Keris and accepted the embrace. “It’d be a real shame if it happened to you, Gat,” he said as he stepped back again.

“It would be worth it, just to see her in action!” Gat leaned in and tried to pat Keris on the arm.

She stepped backwards out of his reach, sneering. “You wouldn’t see anything.”

“Don’t go giving her a reason,” Sath said, rolling his eyes, before turning to the crates. “Everything here is Kaveh’s. Fifteen tons of iron ore, straight from the source. Sailed it down the Leroshrau ourselves.”

Gat leaned down to inspect a label on one of the crates. “Middlebrook hematite?”

“For what I’m charging you?” Sath laughed. “Nothing else.”

“Fantastic!” Gat cried, fishing in one of his baggy sleeves when he straightened again. He produced a bag of coins and handed it to Sath. “This is just the common stuff. Most of your payment is in the good metals back at the foundry. It’s already set aside and waiting for you, minus a usage fee for three days.”

“Put the fee back on the table, and I’ll give you a sample plate of my newest work.”

Gat’s eyes flicked down to the sword on Sath’s hip. “Ah, you mean what got you your new crests?” He raised his hand, indicating the rose-gold pins at the end of Sath’s rank scarf and Keris’ own badge strip. “Out of exclusivity, now?”

“Yep. We’re sailing down the coast to meet with a couple potential buyers, after this stop.”

“It’s worth that much, eh?”

“Oh, more than that, but you’re all friends I’ve worked with for a long time.” Sath smiled, “If Kaveh’s impressed, I might set up a more permanent arrangement.”

“He already is, just hearing the rumors and reports. He wants to know what stormcloud you ripped this recipe from.”

“A man’s gotta keep some secrets. We’ll see what we can set up tomorrow.”

“Until tomorrow, then!” Gat stepped away to leave, but halted mid-turn. “Ah, and in your southward journeys, you wouldn’t be stopping off at some off-the-map ports, would you?”

“One or two, maybe,” Sath said, with a shrug.

A pained look crossed Gat’s face, before he turned to Keris. “They’re getting feisty again, down there. Take care of him.”

“I tried talking him out of it,” Keris growled. “You don’t need to tell me.”

Gat shrugged and looked back to Sath. “I’m sure your southbound leg ends at Belanflow. Say hi to my cousin for me.”

“I will,” Sath said, and waved. After returning the gesture, Gat disappeared back in the crowd of dockworkers and merchants along the piers.

Once he was gone, Sath looked back to his companion. “You know, even after a batch of spellplates, I probably have enough left over now for your next piece of armor. Any idea which piece you want next?”

Shaking her head, Keris replied, “Surprise me.”

“I’ll see what I can cook up. Now I bet you’re gonna need your energy for tonight, so why don’t we get some food as soon as these are collected?”

―――――

Mahre Countryside, Early Summer, Dragon’s Accord Year 307     

Peering through an ethereal ring of silver flame, Sefeldri lowered a final branch from the surrounding forest onto a pile with a telekinetic grip. The firewood creaked and shifted under this new weight as the drake’s attention was drawn to a nearby rock, where a mass of stars fell from the sky. The ring before her face winked out as two bright lights shone from the errant piece of night. The cosmic canine silhouette turned to regard her.

She glanced up at the encroaching night, then back down to her companion. “Even if the colors were right, the stars don’t match.”

“They’re not your stars,” answered many voices.

“So you’ve told me, Fate,” she replied dismissively. “And since I’m not going to cross the desert to find out where, I’ve taken to hoping it’s actually when. Unless you want me to follow the dragons to find out?”

“Oh no, I hope you never do,” Fate said. “Nor would it help. It’s not a sky any dragon’s ever seen.”

Sefeldri’s eyes widened, “Not even the Patriarch?”

“Not even him.”

She sat back on her haunches and regarded the Spectator. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that before?”

“You never asked.”

“You can read my mind.”

“I try not to do it often. Keeps things interesting. Besides, there’s a lot he doesn’t know. That’s why he needs you, after all.”

Shaking her head, Sefeldri focused on the stack of firewood again. As she tapped into a different spell within her helmet, the silver flames appeared again before her face. She gently blew through the ghostly ring, and a gout of flame shot forth to ignite the stack.

Fate cocked his head. “It’s been centuries since anyone fell for that affected fire-breathing.”

“I can see why they would, though. And I can see why dragons did it. Flow within to match flow without. It feels proper.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Fate said. “They’d probably think you silly though, lighting campfires and sleeping through the night, only to take flight during the day.”

“It’s too hard to look for a human at night.”

“Have you decided what you’ll do when you find him?”

Sefeldri’s gaze dropped to the ground under her front talons, before responding quietly, “Not yet.”

“You’re running out of time.”

A brief moment of irritation flared and died in the back of Sefeldri’s mind, and she met those bright lights that passed for Fate’s eyes again. “You still haven’t told me why you care.”

“He might be able to help us with a special task.”

“What task?”

“Do you trust me?”

Sefeldri snorted, “You know you’re the only one I trust. That’s why your silence bothers me.”

“You’ll have to live with being bothered for a while longer. Not too long, I promise.” It was Fate’s turn to look away, as if put off by his own reluctance. “I do hope you’ll listen to me when the time comes.”

“I want to! I’m a spy, not…” Sefeldri shook her head, “I can’t just ignore a command from the Patriarch like this, though, as uncomfortable as it makes me.”

“We’ll find a way. We always do.”

“Sometimes I just miss the times we didn’t have to,” she shot back. “The times when we could just roam until we found something interesting to bring back.”

Fate didn’t respond. The sounds of the forest spoke in his silence, carrying the calls and cries of creatures that were, like drakes, nocturnal. All reminders of how far Sefeldri drifted from her brethren when her responsibilities called for it.

If Fate wouldn’t, she’d interrupt them herself. “You know what tonight is?”

“Twenty years since I found you.”

“You’ve been following me everywhere for decades and still need to ask if I trust you,” Sefeldri said, her hurt tone shown false by a smile.

“Call it guilt,” Fate said, his voices sounding oddly muted. “Sometimes I think your answer might change.”

He didn’t have to tell her why. She might trust him, but he knew things he could never trust her with. He’d promised her, when they started traveling together, that he’d tell her anything that might endanger her. Most times, that was enough.

Fate hadn’t met looked back up at her yet, and she found herself staring at the strange hole in space his body formed. Before she could lose herself in the stars forming his folded wings, she turned skyward to look at the night’s own spread. Patriarch Dėherodase was supposed to know every star in the sky, in configurations dating back almost a thousand years. He’d traveled to places never visited, especially southward, just to witness the stars nobody ever sees. She felt something of an obligation to learn, now that she knew there were patterns even he hadn’t seen.

“Could you take me there again tonight?”

Fate finally looked back to her, tilting his head in silent question

“Where you take your appearance from. Can you show me again? Not the same as going personally, but with what you’ve now told me, I doubt I ever will.”

“If you’d like.”

“Now?”

Fate cocked his head in the opposite direction at that. “Ready to sleep already?”

With a shrug, Sefeldri settled down on the matted grass beneath her. “Why not? The earlier I rise the better. Wake me if anything comes close.”

“I’ll keep you safe.” Somehow, Fate’s response never sounded as rote as her request.

Shortly after she closed her eyes, entirely new surroundings exploded into existence around her. A dense forest spread around where she was suspended in midair, covering the ground out to distant mountains that ringed the entire scene. Immediately below her was a placid lake, its shoreline occasionally broken by colossal crystals that glowed faintly in the night. Above her spread stars in a cloudless sky, a sky divided by a band of bright filaments running from one end to another. Not her stars.

“Now,” Fate’s voices came from everywhere around her, “let me show you my constellations.”