Book V Chapter 28: When Worlds Collide
Laps-du-Ment Grande Ballroom
Everything around the two chapters seemed to freeze in time-- dancers slowing to a pause, music fading swiftly from their ears.
Every light in the ballroom shone down upon them like beacons, every eye seeming to see only them.
For a single, sacred moment, all was silent, all possibilities equal.
"I... Kelan," Nefirian breathed, the words falling heavy like stones.
"Hello, Nefirian," he said simply, as a tiny fairy wren flitted across his shoulders, making itself comfortable atop the feathered shawl.
"...we should, um. Go... somewhere," the scientist managed weakly, gesturing to a nearby empty alcove with a tip of his head.
This, he had not expected. Not remotely, not minutely.
Kelan did not come to Chimre; not to visit, not to talk, and most certainly not to a Ball. The implications were positively massive, but Nef steeled himself as he led Kelan over to the windowed passage.
They were in a public place, teeming with people; Kelan could not, absolutely would not attempt to kill him here.
But then... he could in theory, couldn't he?
He didn't need fire spells or world-shattering magic to destroy him. He didn't need to doom everyone in the building simply to snuff a single life.
He was, after all, the Flamekeeper.
If Kelan so wished it, all he had to do was find the thread, and...
They stopped just beneath one of the massive windows, soft moonlight falling upon them.
"You look terrible," Kelan said, catching him off-guard; he hadn't been expecting any amount of small talk, either.
Nef laughed weakly. "I feel ready to swallow my tongue, so that's only fair. I confess, I'm not certain whether I should be writing my will right now or not."
"What's going on here? The mirajin is overwhelming; these people haven't been living in this for long. Not even your dreamshards could suck up this miasma..."
Of course; he could sense it in the air.
Did he know what it felt like before the project began?
Damnit, Kelan; you weren't supposed to be here...
"You're likely closer to the Fatis Mirajin itself than you've been in hundreds of years, Kelan.
I'm certain you must be more sensitive to feeling its energy than those of us who carry out our lives around it," he said smoothly.
Kelan pursed his lips. "Ah, so I see. And where was this certainty when my son came to visit you? Do you know what's happened to me, Nefirian?"
"...no," he admitted, his mouth dry. "What's happened to you, Kelan? I haven't heard from you in more than a year. Not since we met in Dreams--"
"Shortly after that meeting, Valdren came back to Schalle along with the dragons who left with him. They burned Aenswynne down around my people. They burned the forests surrounding Aqk's Peak," Kelan said at a whisper.
"And when I found Valdren there atop the Peak, he killed Aqk before my very eyes, and then he burned me alive."
Nef simply stared at him in confused, wounded silence. "...no. He-- but... but you're ..."
Wordlessly, Kelan pulled his shawl aside, spreading his flame-feathered wings briefly before folding them away again.
"...the legendary Fair sibe," he finished, his eyes growing wide. "He killed both of you."
"Why have you done this to me, Nefirian?" Kelan demanded softly. "Why have you insisted in taking everything I've ever had, snatching it away, and distorting it? Turning it against me? Destroying it? Is your hatred for me truly so complete?"
"I am Nefirian Dreamscar, Kelan. Mod'han has been dead for a long time. I could never, would never wish you to suffer. Despite everything, you're one of my greatest friends...
"Everything I've created, everything I've ever done--"
"...has destroyed everything I've ever cherished," Kelan snarled. "My joy, my life, my people, my mortality... now my mentor? Now my own son? What else will you demand of me?
"What else will you tear away to feed your fucking crystal?!"
"Stop it. You're hurting, Kelan, I understand that, but this--"
"Understand?! How in hell could you ever understand? Oh, yes, you're certainly suffering here, aren't you, spewing your toxic radiation bullshit all over everything, dancing, revelling, gorging yourselves stupid and rolling around in your loathsome, world-devouring, pseudo-scientific filth!"
"My gods," Nefirian laughed despite himself. "You sound so much like I used to, Kelan. How could I not know such bitterness and hatred when I see it? I lived it! I lived -this-! Kelan, please listen to me. You need he--"
"I told you," he hissed. "I told you before all this happened, that if you hurt Valdren, there'd be hell to pay. And no, you didn't hurt him. You've ruined him, you've rotted his mind--"
"And what of the other Flarions, Kelan?" Nef suddenly snapped, narrowing his eyes and flattening his ears. "Did I rot their minds, too? Is the instability Valdren contracted from the Mirajin contagious, or were they simply waiting for an excuse to turn on you, raze everything to the ground and do things on their terms?
"Would you like to blame me for that, as well, or perhaps even the short temper, kneejerk reactions and poor judgement Valdren's had as long as I've ever known him?"
Kelan snarled. "Don't you dare--"
"No, you listen, you pompous arsehole!" Nefirian bellowed, his lips curled back, all the better to show off his sharp, fearsome teeth. "You may not like the way I run things, and you may find it easier to believe that the world is out to get you-- especially when you can conveniently blame me for having something to do with it-- but you know what?
"You make your own destiny. I realized that finally as Mod'han Nefirian, that day when something changed in me and realized I didn't need to resent everything anymore. Now, for years, all you've ever done is make everyone around you miserable in my place. But you know what? I get it.
"I'm a horrible, loathsome, sorry excuse for an Aeneski, but that's alright, because I refuse to let other peoples' opinions of what I aught to be color my own, and I make damn sure everyone under my wing has that very same right.
"And I make damn sure they all know that I love and value them, so when the shit hits the fan? They'll be there for me when I need them!"
His last words were a furious shriek, ringing painfully in their ears.
"That's all well and good," Kelan sneered, his voice low and his teeth clenched tight, "but we'll see where that gets you when everything crashes down around your ears, and the people you love, that you've spent your entire life loving, are the very same ones driving the sword through your back!"
"ENOUGH!! I have had enough of this! Terribly sorry your life is so shit, Kelan, but you don't really want my help or my sympathy, so I'll be going now. Now, doesn't that sound familiar?"
Nefirian saluted him mockingly, spinning on his heel and marching out into the crowd without another word, leaving Kelan bristling in his wake.
He strode furiously through the ballroom and past Selarion and Elliot, who were dancing together out on the floor.
"... was that Nefirian without a shirt on? Good heavens," Selarion said, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, it's not that bad," Elliot said with a giggle.
"No, not that. He didn't seem in a terribly good mood... oh, Kelan, you didn't..." Selarion sighed, watching as Kelan emerged from the alcove, scowling under his mask and folding his arms across his chest, his head bowed; on the opposite end of the room, Nefirian stalked away into another, dragging up a chair and throwing himself heavily atop it before pressing his face into his hands in obvious misery.
"Is something the matter?"
"I'm afraid so, it seems. But please, allow me to escort you back to your seat first," Selarion said with a bow, taking her hand and walking to a nearby table to pull out a chair for her. "Would you like something to drink before I go?"
"Oh, yes, please. Thank you so much, Selarion," Elliot said coyly, her cheeks flushing as she glanced away from him with a smile.
Shadows flitted past Nefirian as dancers wheeled and spun on the floor, enjoying themselves mightily.
He kept his head down and out of the light, determined that no one might see him there, his grief and confusion plain on his face.
He had never expected Kelan to show up at the ball; he had never expected Kelan to be slain by his son and return from the dead.
The stoic Chapter all but hated him now, that much was obvious; so close to fruition, his greatest achievement may have already been too late in coming.
Desperate to have soothed Kelan, or to at least to have tended his wounds, their discussion-- the first discussion since Valdren had come to see him, no less-- had quickly devolved into a shouting match.
Nothing, no one had gotten him to raise his voice in a very long time; it was a near-impossibility thanks to his mental discipline and iron will.
But his will had failed him; confronted with an angry and bitter Kelan out of the blue, the shock of the moment had caught hm off-guard, and his swift and vicious attack had gotten through his defenses and under his skin.
As the only fully-powered, awakened Chapter, Kelan held a notable advantage over him in any face-to-face confrontation; there was likely little he could do if the Flamekeeper had decided to assault him, even on his own turf.
Little but flee into the Reverie and pray he left Laps and Chimre intact in the predictable rage that followed-- how crushingly humiliating.
He wondered if he had done the right thing in allowing Valdren to see Opus.
He wondered if the short-tempered, impulsive Flarion Prince wouldn't have killed Kelan and Aqk in the end, anyway.
Another shadow cut into the light of the brilliant ballroom; this one did not flicker past, however.
"Hey, you alright?"
Nefirian looked up, scowling; this voice was familiar as well, but much less so-- he couldn't quite place it, but he knew he'd met this man before.
Only his lips were visible within the snarling mouth of his emerald green dragon mask, and he smiled comfortingly down at the little Chapter.
"Completely," he lied, not bothering to smile back.
He felt naked now, and not remotely because of his uncharacteristically revealing costume; it seemed more effort than it was worth to bother feigning contentment, to bother concocting some minor and temporary concern when the nigh-impenetrable fortress he had built to conceal his emotions within had fallen.
Much to his displeasure, however, the costumed man helped himself to a chair, turning it to face Nef before sitting down, crossing one taloned leg over the other.
His costume was ridiculously ornate; it was the only full-face mask he had seen at the Ball tonight, accompanied by a padded, scaled green bodysuit covered in intricate designs and shimmering colors. The shoulders even branched off into a pair of small, clawed arms, a dragon wing-styled cape hanging down from them.
Despite himself, Nefirian found himself enchanted by the wondrous detail of it all, and he relaxed a bit.
"That has to be the most spectacular costume I've seen here yet," he announced, dimly aware that the last time he'd said such a thing, Kelan popped out; there certainly weren't two of him, however, and he couldn't make himself suspect that Valdren might be hiding within.
"It's a green rampant, isn't it?"
"Nope!" The stranger chirped proudly. "It's Orra, the Elysian god of Life!"
Nefirian's face turned to stone; ice ran down his spine.
This couldn't be Dilndrou; he would've already tried to kill him, and there was no way the ornery alligator would have taken the time to have a costume crafted just to sneak into the ball.
It wasn't Dietrich, either, as he kept his distance from the towns and cities of Chimre, and would know nothing of the traditions of their people.
He swallowed; it was not his day at all. "With absolutely all due respect... who are you, what do you know about Elysians, and why are you here?
"I'll answer backwards, is that okay? I'm here with a proposition for you, on the behalf of someone very special. I was quite intimate with the Elysians for a very long time-- you could say they made me who I am today, in fact..."
The masked man grinned, setting a hand on Nefirian's shoulder. "And I saved your life not too long ago, too. I don't think I had a chance to properly introduce myself, though, what with the screaming, angry alligator-god trying to kill you-- you're a popular guy, huh? ...
"...so, you can call me Nigel."
Next Chapter: Book V Chapter IXXX
Category: Book V | Story