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The Lost Dragon Chapter 14.2 (LMS VI)

by soundofmind


Chapter 14: That's Enough Beans

James struggled to meet Clandestine's eyes. He kept them lowered, set on the ground between them.

Clandestine wanted to hear the whole story, but James didn't know if they had time for it. He had to figure out a way to tell her what she needed to know without letting this drag on much longer. His nerves were starting to chip away at him, and though Clandestine seemed under the false impression that they were safe because no one had found them yet, James had learned long ago not to depend on a status quo to go unchanged.

He took in a deep breath.

"Do you know what happened to the dragons during the calamity?" he asked.

He had to get a pulse for how much she knew, and how much would shock her.

"I... I don't," Clandestine hesitated. "I didn't know something happened to them at all..."

James nodded slightly. That left Clandestine along with the majority of the world's population: still in the dark. He'd been there not too long ago as well, but it'd been five years since he'd had anyone with an ear to listen to that was even open to believing him.

He just hadn't expected the first person to be the one he managed to save.

He swallowed.

"I can go into more detail later," he prefaced, knowing that many more questions would arise once she knew. "But what you need to know for now is this: before the start of the Great War, King Blackfield led a secret initiative to target the most powerful known dragons on the earth as a devastating first strike on mage-kind. It had been in the works for over a decade, and he was the one who perfected the formula for lumshade."

He still couldn't meet her eyes, but he could feel her eyes piercing through him.

"They learned that dragons are most vulnerable in their human form--"

"Their what--" Clandestine tried to say, but James kept going.

"Which was how they were able to subdue them," he said. "That was when they struck - via ambush - with the lumshade, and were able to kill them when they couldn't use their magic. They killed Jord, the Earth dragon, and Svida, the fire dragon soon after. You mentioned that Svida met with your mentor, right?"

When Clandestine mentioned Svida, James realized his initial assumption had been wrong. He'd thought that the kingdom was wrong about their theory of a dragon's magic being passed to another, but regardless, there was a real, living person inside. Honestly, James had thought it to be a trap, rigged to sabotage the person in waiting and whoever was unlucky enough to open it.

But it appeared that the cryptic rhyme had been true.

When Clandestine woke up... the coffin had clearly been opened without consequence.

There was no way to prove that if they'd tried to open it any earlier that it might've blown up in their face, but the very fact that James knew they'd still tried and failed to open it until Clandestine evidently woke up herself was proof enough that whatever magic had been used to seal her away worked. It'd followed the rules set by the words on the wood.

James realized that Clandestine had yet to answer his question, and when he looked back up at her, her eyes were watering.

Tears began to stream down her face, and she was staring at the ground now, shaking her head.

"How do you know all of this?" she asked in a whisper.

A sharp pain wrapped around James's chest as he watched her, feeling helpless as the bearer of bad news. Especially after everything that had already transpired.

"When I was promoted, the king took me under his wing," James said. "After some time... I learned secrets kept from the public, documented in the king's hidden library, as well as ones he told me in confidence."

He let out a sigh.

"It... like I said," he said. "Maybe a story for another time. There's still the issue of..."

He swallowed, unsure of how to proceed.

"What do all the dragons have to do with me?" Clandestine asked, hugging her knees tightly. "Does this have to do with... with the inheritor thing? What does this all mean?"

James wished he knew how to answer that for her. But he knew as little about what this all meant as she did.

"The King had a theory," James said slowly. "Based on what he witnessed during Jord's death."

Clandestine hesitantly flicked her eyes up towards him, wiping away at her eyes.

"He said he witnessed the magic transfer from the dying body of Jord to another man," James said. "One believed to be one of his pupils. But that pupil escaped before they could catch him. Ever since then, they've never been able to confirm what Blackfield claims to have witnessed. But they believed the theory to be enough grounds to deduce that whoever was being kept in the coffin... was likely Svida's..."

He hesitated.

"Inheritor," he said. "To use Svida's language."

James still didn't know how Svida could've known who her "inheritor" was, or how that even worked. How had Jord known? Or had none of them known, until the first dragon in history was murdered?

There was so much James still didn't understand, but he found himself determined to help Clandestine piece together what she could of her past.

Clandestine sniffed, staring at him again with disbelief.

"What were they going to do to me?" she asked quietly.

James furrowed his brows, setting them into a line as he met her eyes. As well as he could manage, he turned his body to face her as well, tucking his legs up as he slowly turned, using his better arm to balance his weight until they were facing one another.

"That's why I'm here," he said. "They were going to wait until the seal of magic broke, and then they were going to keep you under with lumshade. Indefinitely."

Clandestine's mouth fell agape.

"So I smuggled you out before that could happen."

"You--you what?" Clandestine sputtered.

He understood that this was a lot to take in. But he also didn't know how else to relay this information.

James sighed, leaning forward to support his weight instead of relying on his arm, which was growing tired. He looked past Clandestine to the flickering fire behind her. It was starting to die down, and their light was dimming.

Soon, he wouldn't be able to see much at all.

"I pulled some strings," James said.

Every string he had.

"I was able to make it work," he went on.

He'd had to organize it quickly, with as few people knowing as possible. Fortunately, the knowledge of the coffin wasn't public, so it hadn't been difficult finding people willing to smuggle a dead body out of the city. The problem hadn't been getting the coffin out of the city: it had been getting the coffin out of the palace, undetected. That had required a week's worth of thorough organization to seize the only window of time when the king's private chambers were switching guard long enough to sneak in and out of.

And after that point, it had been a laborious journey with many stopping points until they finally hid the coffin in a storage room, sneaking it past the palace walls in a wagon under the guise of supply transportation.

From there, it'd been much simpler: no longer having to work around the strict, constant watch of the palace guard, there was just enough leeway for him to set up a meeting with the smugglers he hired.

The only pitfall to transporting a coffin was that, despite being aware that it contained a real, living person inside, there was no way to convince them to transport a living person. There would be too many questions, and the risk would exponentially increase for them to attempt to open it or interfere.

So he'd had to tell them it was just a coffin, and that they weren't to ask whose body it contained, nor disturb the dead.

It was enough for the smugglers not to ask questions, but James had feared what they would do with the coffin after. He asked them explicitly to dump it, but from what Clandestine had said, it sounded like they took it upon themselves to bury her...

"You asked why I was wanted," James said, finally cutting to the core of the question, to the one they started with before the story had spun out of control. Before they knew how their stories intertwined.

"And that is why," he said.

"I took advantage of my position in the palace," he went on. "And I made sure the coffin was ushered out of the city. It should never have been taken there in the first place."

At the time, when he'd left that meeting, he'd been caught in a tailspin. Worry had flooded his mind over how little he knew of the truth of the war, and how much had apparently been hidden.

The weeks that followed felt like a storm, passing like a blur as he sat in meetings with the king, overhearing more secrets than he knew how to bear. While advisors were debating on the fate of the person trapped in the coffin, James had been quietly concocting a plan not only to get the coffin out of the kingdom's grasp but to preserve the history the king kept hidden away.

When the king finally granted James access to this private library, James was quick to absorb everything he could - and it was easy to play it under the guise of being a diligent mentee, eager to learn and be a student of the kingdom's true history.

What had been challenging was stealing the documents that were written on the true history of the Great War. But concealing them in two extra coffins, disguising them among what was already disguised as the smuggling of the dead? It had worked, miraculously.

That was until everything was discovered missing.

"That's why you're wanted?" Clandestine asked slowly. "You're wanted because you got rid of... me?"

"...Not only that," he said stiffly. "I also managed to smuggle out a large portion of the king's library and hide it away."

Clandestine's brows pinched together in confusion.

"You stole books?" she asked flatly.

"Not just books," he said. "Information. Verifiable information that could actually expose the kingdom, and what really happened during the great war."

"Where are the books, then?" Clandestine asked. "You don't have a whole library on you."

James met her eyes, his brows furrowing.

"You said you were almost buried in a graveyard," he said quietly. "Right?"

Clandestine shriveled at the question, but she nodded.

"Yes," she said.

"The books were buried there, in a coffin, under a fake name," he said. "No one knows the location but me. The only problem is... the graveyard reaches far into the Moonlight Kingdom borders. I couldn't make it there alive if I tried."

And he had, at first, tried. Before he was practically driven out of the kingdom, running for his life.

It had rendered his efforts useless.

Now, with no proof apart from his word, he had nothing to show for his efforts. Except, now, perhaps... he could consider Clandestine living proof. But even those who knew of the coffin's existence in the kingdom had never seen the person inside. No one would know it was really her.

No one knew that she was, however impossibly, the lost dragon.

"It hardly matters, now," James said weakly, letting out a weak laugh. "It's been a long night, and you look like should lie down. If anything, at least for a little bit. I should be able to keep watch for now, though it would be wise if you would put out what remains of the fire."

Clandestine jerked her head around, turning to look at the fizzling flames that remained.

"I don't know if I'll be able to fall asleep," she said distantly, getting up slowly to pick up a canteen, half-hidden in the grass.

"You should at least try," James said softly, watching as she unscrewed the lid and poured out just enough water to douse what remained of the fire.

With the light gone, they were plunged into darkness - and though it would take James's eyes time to adjust - he knew he still wouldn't be able to see much.

Still, it was better than nothing. Clandestine couldn't stay awake forever.

He could hear the dirt crunch under Clandestine's boots as she walked. It sounded like she was coming closer again.

"Do you mind if I lay here?" she asked.

He could barely make out her silhouette just a few feet from him. It looked like she wasn't far, but she wasn't right next to him either. He wasn't sure why she felt compelled to ask, but he supposed, still new to each other as they were, it was a fair question.

"No," he said simply, and he listened as the ground shifted beneath her feet, and her blanket fluttered with her to the ground.

James glanced down at the shadow of the bowl beside him, finally remembering the beans that had now grown cold.

Hesitantly, he picked them up.

He'd need something in his stomach if he was going to endure whatever was next for them - and he really didn't know what.

"James?" Clandestine called out into the dark, her voice hushed.

He looked back in her direction.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"You won't leave me in my sleep, will you?" she asked softly.

James froze, not expecting to feel seen, or confronted.

He would be lying if he told he hadn't considered it ten times over. Even during their conversation, it had been a recurring thought. But for years, it had been a recurring thought to abandon any friend, ally, or companion he ever found himself with. Because when he didn't, they'd get caught in the fire that always followed him.

But there was something about this that was different.

He still felt hesitant, and he still didn't know what the future held, but somehow, their lives had collided once more - and they hadn't even known they'd collided prior until mere moments ago.

It felt like something had inexplicably changed in a way that was irreversible.

The fire dragon was living among them, and she was right in front of him, in the body of a young woman who, however impulsively, had saved him, of all people.

And now, because of what he knew, her whole world was falling apart.

She hadn't even known she was a dragon. He didn't even know what that meant for her.

"I won't," he finally said, gentle, but firm. "I'll be here. I'll wake you up in a few hours."

There were a few seconds of hesitation.

"Okay," Clandestine nearly whispered. He could see her body curl up into a ball. "Goodnight."

He let out a small huff through his nose. She was the only one going to sleep, and the formality almost felt humorous, but he decided not to mention it.

"Goodnight, Clandestine."


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Wed Jul 05, 2023 6:46 pm
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SilverNight wrote a review...



Hey again sound! I'm back again for the rest of this very suspenseful chapter and conversation :]

"I can go into more detail later," he prefaced, knowing that many more questions would arise once she knew. "But what you need to know for now is this: before the start of the Great War, King Blackfield led a secret initiative to target the most powerful known dragons on the earth as a devastating first strike on mage-kind. It had been in the works for over a decade, and he was the one who perfected the formula for lumshade."


This!! I love hearing about history in worldbuilding, and it makes sense that it's being directly explained through dialogue right here, since Clandestine hasn't learned about it and it wouldn't be like pointing out the obvious.

It also adds some nuance to how I think of the different anti-mage happenings in the world. I think I remember hearing about the calamity (possibly from reading your earlier draft) that it was a sudden event that had a very murky cause and that no one fully understood why it started, which would line up with Clandestine's confusion of her last memory before being put under and buried, where everyone was agitated and she didn't know what was happening. I think the Great War on the other hand is referring to James' conflict, so it would have been a carefully planned, pre-meditated event as opposed to the calamity's suddenness, with causes that are clear but kept closely secret. It's very interesting to hear!

I'm interested in King Blackfield too-- James describes his work on lumshade as if the king were the one doing it himself, and even if it wasn't him, he must have taken a very close interest in it for James to say it that way. His commitment to engineering a painstaking plan for that long shows his strong opposition to magic. James definitely absorbed a lot from that private library!

"They learned that dragons are most vulnerable in their human form--"

"Their what--" Clandestine tried to say, but James kept going.


Oooh, is this something Clandestine had no clue of? I would have thought she knew something about it from being in a mage guild, but this also makes for a really funny moment. James is dropping bombs and moving on LOL

James still didn't know how Svida could've known who her "inheritor" was, or how that even worked. How had Jord known? Or had none of them known, until the first dragon in history was murdered?


This begs a few questions for me! Some of them are questions relating to future mysteries that I hope will be revealed later, such as "Why would Clandestine have been chosen/have been the best for an inheritor?", though some are because I'm a bit confused currently. Does this mean Svida and Jord were the "original" dragons and so hardly know how the process with an inheritor works? Or were they inheritors themselves at one point and had to make a quick decision about who to pass their magic to when they were in danger? This might be a point for clarity if you want readers to have this information one way or the other!

"That's why I'm here," he said. "They were going to wait until the seal of magic broke, and then they were going to keep you under with lumshade. Indefinitely."

Clandestine's mouth fell agape.

"So I smuggled you out before that could happen."


Did they know when the magic seal would break? James makes it sound like he interfered just in time to avoid it, though it sounds like they could have been waiting indefinitely, unless they figured out what would cause it to open and were hoping to try it.

"You asked why I was wanted," James said, finally cutting to the core of the question, to the one they started with before the story had spun out of control. Before they knew how their stories intertwined.

"And that is why," he said.


LOL I'm half-convinced he fully forgot what they were talking about at first

"You said you were almost buried in a graveyard," he said quietly. "Right?"


I'm curious about how the smugglers hauling her out caused Clandestine to wake. I have the running theory that the seal broke once she asked to be let out, but I wonder how she woke up before that. If it was from being jolted around during travel, how come this didn't happen on her way being transported to the kingdom from her gravesite?

No one knew that she was, however impossibly, the lost dragon.


Title drop!!!

He would be lying if he told he hadn't considered it ten times over. Even during their conversation, it had been a recurring thought. But for years, it had been a recurring thought to abandon any friend, ally, or companion he ever found himself with. Because when he didn't, they'd get caught in the fire that always followed him.


I am so sad for James but I also love the brilliance of Clandestine metaphorically being the fire following James!

~

This was a great ending to the conversation! I feel like I know a lot more about the two of them now, with about as much knowledge as I'd hope to have at this point of the book and maybe then some. It does strike me as a bit of info-dumping, but I loved everything I learned and it was never once uninteresting, so I don't think it's a problem. It was really thrilling to see them talk about their pasts and realize they connected in a way they (and readers) didn't see coming!

Hope you have a great day! I can't wait for more :]




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Sat Jun 24, 2023 12:28 pm
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi sound! Lim here with a review.

General Impressions

I’m glad they’ve managed to finish this big conversation! I have more of an idea now where the plot might go next, since all this information has been given. I feel like they’ll be going back to get those books in the Moonlight Kingdom at some point. Perhaps they might also try to look for the earth dragon (the new one) who might be still alive, or to some other place Clandestine knew to look for more clues as to her ‘destiny’.

James’ plan to free Clandestine was surprisingly well thought-out – I would’ve thought it was a spur of the moment thing involving violence which would make him easy to villainise in the Moonlight Kingdom. Instead, it’s a very calculated plot, so they must have had to figure out how to trace it back to him somehow.

Plot

James had been quietly concocting a plan not only to get the coffin out of the kingdom's grasp but to preserve the history the king kept hidden away.

The fact that he took two years before removing the coffin now makes more sense to me. At first I thought he was just working up the courage, but this makes more sense. It shows more of James’ strategic side too, different from the James who ran recklessly past a sandworm. (And more like James facing off with Alexander.)
When the king finally granted James access to this private library, James was quick to absorb everything he could - and it was easy to play it under the guise of being a diligent mentee, eager to learn and be a student of the kingdom's true history.

Hmm that’s smart! It’s very believable that the king we met last chapter would fall for that farce. The king was set up to already believe James is some big patriot, and we have no reason not to trust that what the king said was his true opinion. I’m glad we’re getting answers as to what the king wanted to show him in the last chapter – it adds to the sense of continuity.
There’s also continuity with Clandestine’s abandonment fears in that nighttime conversation, which is good. It looks like James is going to have to stop running from people to progress in his character arc.

Descriptions

I noticed a lot of this chapter involves James telling us information either through dialogue or through his inner thoughts. One place I think some concrete details to create a ‘scene’ could be easily slipped in is:
The problem hadn't been getting the coffin out of the city: it had been getting the coffin out of the palace, undetected. That had required a week's worth of thorough organization to seize the only window of time when the king's private chambers were switching guard long enough to sneak in and out of.

Maybe there could be a mention of who was moving the coffins, what they looked like, whether they wore a disguise, etc. And when was the “window of time”? Day? Night? Little things like that could help enliven this part, if you end up keeping it in his inner monologue. Just a suggestion!

Overall

All the new information revealed in this chapter sounds promising. I’m keen on finding out if that earth dragon inheritor is still alive, for instance.

Hope this helps – keep writing!
-Lim
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Sat Jun 17, 2023 6:25 pm
DaisyHelman says...



Amazing chapter with amazing setting choice, the Rhetorical frame set used to set the scene for this piece is very similar to how Advanced Placement students are trained to review multiple choice short stories for their exams. Though I feel as if the discussion is rather minimal between the two. I find the narration to have a little annoyance within the story, which takes away the readers interest in continuing the story.





No, it's not that you didn't succeed. You accomplished a lot, but, if you want to touch people, don't concentrate so much on rhyme and metre. Think more about what you want to say instead of how you're saying it.
— LCDR Geordi La Forge