We begin in media res:
In a cavern below the earth, the heroes have drawn together: chasing the young warrior Garmhan who ignored foretelling and came down into the dark under Tuhál, then chasing Cían as the Serpent he raised to kill the Mistling who stole the young warrior dragged him away in its coils.
They find themselves in the cavern from Sesíal’s dream. Cían wakes to find a massive lump on his head and the warrior boy Garmhan draped across him.
Claybourne assessed the boy, rolling him off Cían, who quickly moved back from the water and pulled out his deck of cards.
Siséal scanned the battle raging between the unseen wielders of the pale blade, and the silver sickle.
The serpent and the mistling fought, writihing and trashing on the stone in the middle of the lake, The dragon trying to crush the pale, mossy Demi-water creature with its false crystal scales, and the mistling stabbing up into the serpent’s mouth with a stolen bronze blade. Finally, the Mistling managed to push the blade through the serpent’s soft palate and pop the golden swirl of the serpent’s eye. Roaring in agony, the Serpent kicked away from the rock, shedding ice scales and teeth, slapping the Mistling across the chamber with its tail.
The Shadow of the Hound emerged from the deeper shadows of the cavern, wavering and struggling to approach. Siséal and the Shadow greeted each other, and then putting their heads together decided to do something about the battle of the blades. With the water of the lake, the Shadow wrote something on the Suren, taking some substance from him, and lending it to Bel and Ddurn so that rapidly the space behind the weapons filled in: the grey-shadowed robes and the tanned warrior in a battle kilt.
The two fought on: Ddurn full of flurries and savage death blows and Bel languid, as if at a summer dance, all bounce and relaxation combined.
Meanwhile, Claybourne came apart. The skeleton within him grasped the young warrior who lay without life, and peeled the clay man off him, as it chewed its way out of his face and the runes carved into its bones steamed with internal heat. Claybourne slumped and gurgled as the skeleton that had been his structure peeled him away. It wrapped its bony arm, then its legs around the warrior clad in moss-stained white. It wrapped its bony grin around the boy’s mouth and … gave him the breath of life.
Siséal felt the earth beneath him, and all around him. He felt its life. He felt the living water that once was important to his people, though he did not know how. He felt the birthright within him, born the day the Dragon died. He felt the Dragon’s memory everywhere. He floated upward, freed by the strange magic of the Shadow of the Hound from the weight that had dragged him down on his useless legs all his life. He was not going to float away, but it was like being a fish in water: part of the air itself. Touching the earth, part of the air, connected to the waters of the People, he opened the Door. He hadn’t known initially there was a door there, inside his heart, but it was. Maybe it was only there… here. In this place that was so gravely unique. He opened the Door, and the Primacy of the Dragon came flooding into the room.
The Serpent was not the master of Mawr. The Mist, though it had claimed Foraise as its own was not the master of Mawr. The Stranger on the Road was perhaps a master of something after living, but not the world. Bel in all his skill was certainly no lord of the world. But the Dragon was Mawr itself. Or had been. The Dragon was the life of the land. Even in this cavern, the Dragon was sovereign. And for a moment – using the lightness of the Suren’s being, using the sheer Beingness of the Cavern that had lain silent and dark for so long, drinking the wild magic running through the air – for just a moment, the Dragon was Sovereign again.
The earth shook, the embodied Demi-divine combatants falling to their knees. The young warrior in green-stained whites shook await, yelling, rolling backward, scattering bones in all directions, patting his body, coughing. The ceiling of the cavern cracked asunder. As the Mistling pulled itself back together, eyes swirling in its body, as the Serpent surfaced, roaring, great stones fell into the water, parting the very lake itself between the two.
It was clear that the will of the Sovereign was that the madness of violence that surely had led to its death should end.
The living, the embodied, paused at the display of power, were moved. And then, the violence continued.
The Serpent struck at the Mistling in its weakness, and was shattered by falling stones, and the Mistling buried.
The combatants rose to their feet. Cían looked up from the future. “If you are to live, you need the White Sword,” he said, nodding to Bel. Bel looked back, “give me an opening”.
Weapons changed hands. The deadliest game rose in pitch. Bel cut Ddurn’s legs off. Ddurn cut Bel open from groin to chin. Garmhan decapitated the remnant of the Stranger on the Road.
Silence fell as the unmarked silver sickle hit the black stones. Something only Cían knew passed out of the world. Some End for which Ddurn had remained.
Siséal was supported by Claybourne, who had acquired stones to defend the Suren, even as Siséal’s weight and substance came back to him.
There was some talking. Garmhan was clearly not himself.
The Sourceless Flame of Tuhál – the man, the king, not the country – burned on, unfazed by the upheaval or the water or the fall of stones.
They rested a moment. Then, crossing the lake was certainly what was next.