Dromai sits in the Oasis, her feet dangling in the cave’s simmering lake. She watches luminous carp flit through the water, hunting flarefish that fall from the lava river.
The water comes from Misteria. The lava comes from Mount Volcor. Here water and lava meet, a union of opposing forces, just like her.
She delivered General Riku to Ashvahan. The Royal Court gave her the mantle of Dracai in return. For a time there, she even allowed herself to celebrate, to luxuriate in the trappings of palace life.
Then came the messenger in the night, from Xathari. “I have found Eun. Time is of the essence.” In fact, time was their enemy.
Eagerness for the future, that is what drove them into Fai’s trap. Shame at the past, that is what unleashed her fury. Dromai spent years convincing herself of Min’s guilt. Against her fond memories. Against her better instincts. She recited her foster mother’s crime each and every night. Yet when blame was recast in truth, reforged in the blood and fire of the battlefield, she needed no persuasion. Only execution.
Dromai has sought solace in the Oasis before. The ways are hidden, but she is more perceptive than most. She found her way through the mist and winding tunnels. It is a place of refuge. A place of clarity, where she can see through life as easily as she can see through the pristine waters.
It gave her no pleasure to kill Eun. That surprises her. Justice has been served, and it has left her with nothing. Death is no honor for the dead.
Xathari is a different matter. For ten years, he was her mentor, her confidante and friend.
He saved her from murderous rebels.
He offered her a chance to redeem her bloodline.
He gave her a home, a place where she could finally belong.
Part of her wants to hate herself for being so naive, so stupid. But there is no shame in being deceived. Min told her that. The shame lies with the deceiver.
Another part of her wants to find Fai, to aid him in his grand cause. But then she would be deceiving herself. She has no desire to be ruled by the people. The Volcai are not a power she respects.
Like lava transformed to stone by cooling waters, Dromai feels her pain turn to resolve.
Lies can teach just as well as truth. Better even.
The spymaster taught her to unravel the secrets of the arcane, to uncover and use the secrets of the court. He led her down the twisting Way of the Dracai and made her realize it is the only path worth traveling.
Dromai lifts her feet from the water and stands on the lakeshore, taking in the cave’s beauty. Its crystals. Its luscious flowers. She breathes deep of the steam and rich scents, committing them to memory.
Her future is perilous. She may never come back here.
She thinks as she walks, the movement of her feet helps her mind roam free. Only she and Fai survived the ambush. He can shoulder the blame for Xathari’s death. It might even help him add a little fire to his reputation. Fai of the Forest of Flames, Slayer of Dracai.
In turn, Xathari’s demise will aid in hers. In the spymaster’s name, in the memory of his tragic passing, she will gain an audience with the Emperor. She rescued the Emperor’s pet general and slew the rebellion’s most notorious leader. The court will remember her name. Doors will open. She will offer favors. She will collect secrets. Step by step, the Way of the Dracai will lead her to where she deserves to be.
She will never belong to Ashvahan.
Ashvahan will belong to her.