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 When dawn finally came to Ciel-Upon-The-Sea, it came sullenly, as though peeking over the horizon with great reluctance.  The Most High Arcane Council, faced with a large number of deeply unpalatable options about how to respond to the previous day's events, eventually settled on a narrative: that a number of traitors on the council had engaged the services of a rogue demon in an attempt to usurp power, but had been courageously defeated by the noble and brave members of the council who had refused to betray the trust of their citizens (with the aid, of course, of the legendary hero Cheis of Veraleigh).  The council reconvened with seven members and announced plans to hold interviews for five new ones, advising hopefuls to brush up on their extracurriculars.

 While most of the buildings within a generous radius of the harbor were devastated, those bystanders who were in safer portions (such as stairwells) mostly survived unscathed; such was the case for Pellamin and Umbria, who spent a desperate and tearful night holding each other and waiting to see if each moment would be their last.  By the time day broke, they had had some rather instructive heart-to-heart conversations, forged a significantly stronger and more mutually respectful relationship, and were making plans to wed.  An invitation to the ceremony was sent to Cheis's residence, but went unanswered.

 Back in Temurin, the massive army which had fallen behind as Galar and Velinaer had pursued the igg out to sea waffled a bit, leaderless, and eventually elected to return back to the capital.  Their arrival came at an extremely fortuitious time for District Commander Quentin Matrios, who was facing a full-on insurrection from opportunistic nobles, and the tides of fortune turned rather swiftly in his favor; the resulting political changing-of-the-guard which ensued produced a bright new crop of noble families with tremendous loyalty to the crown and a significant uptake in business for higher-end undertakers and gravediggers.  In the coming years "to turn on the crown" became an idiom for doing something extremely and suicidally stupid.

 Though there were very few ships capable of travel in the aftermath of the desolation, there were some few that had been serendipitously out to sea during all the excitement, and the captains and owners of these ships found themselves possessed of very lucrative opportunities indeed upon their return; a large number of public-works projects, initiated by the merchant guilds in their subservience to the infinitely wise invisible hand of market forces, sprung up to repair or replace the damaged buildings and docks in rapid order.  One of these ships carried Galar and Linduin Kayle back to Temurin, a tense and uncommunicative voyage which saw very little understanding proliferate between the two of them.

 Of Cheis herself, of course, there was no word or sign; she could be quite circumspect when the need arose, and saw an opportunity to disentangle herself from both Linduin and Pels before she did them any more damage.  She unobtrusively made her way back to Veraleigh by land, taking the long way back on foot via the southern isthmus of Orburland and passing through Chisburia; the process took her several months, but she had a lot to think about and mostly took her time.  She'd catch up with Linduin later, if the opportunity arose; it'd be a nice change of pace to have a former apprentice out there in the world she was on friendly terms with, at least.

 Galar's return to Temurin Crown City was greeted with tremendous celebration and good cheer; by all accounts, he had destroyed the demonic threat pretty much single-handedly and brought about significant social change, with large groups of the peasantry forming wartime bonds with the nobles and soldier classes during the war; pro-Galar sentiment, in other words, was at an all-time high.  The fact that he brought with him an excitingly-scarred young son of noble bearing (and conspicuously marriageable age to the princess) was not overlooked either, and the winds of rumor soon began to raise aloft suppositions that Galar might soon take on the role of regent if the king's health continued to worsen.  Linduin, working behind the scenes to ensure much of this, got a great deal of mileage out of his lessons in intrigue in Ciel-Upon-The-Sea and expected to enjoy a long and productive career in viziery.  Orána, for her part, found Linduin intimidating at first but was hopelessly ensnared when she discovered the wounded and savaged heart lurking at the center of his trauma.  Their relationship was tempestuous, tumultuous, and frequently toxic; but such is the volatile melange of love and power.  Galar, vastly humbled by his recent experiences and the harrowing burden of watching his son grow up into a caricature of all the shallow virtues he himself had esteemed as a young man, exercised his somber wisdom as best he could; and, somehow, everything more or less worked out.  Between Galar's pious ministrations, Linduin's machiavellian manipulations, and Orána's tender sincerity, a tenuous but beautiful balance formed; and, perhaps somewhat improbably, the kingdom flourished for a long, long time.

***

 It was nearly spring when Cheis of Veraleigh arrived back at her home; the maintenance enchantments were just about beginning to run down, but the village had chipped in to (cautiously) perform some minor chores on her behalf such as weeding and replanting her garden and trimming back a few of her less murderous hedges.  There had been a drawing of lots to see who would attempt to scrub the walkway and steps, but after the long-handled broom caught fire they all agreed it was best simply to not presume; after all, who was to say Cheis didn't want her steps unscrubbed?  She opened the gate up her path and sighed with no small amount of contentment; it had been a long journey, and it was good to be home.

 "Hey, nice place," said Velinaer approvingly, peeking over her shoulder.  "You do all that?"

 Cheis shrugged.  "Most of it.  A couple elementals for the stone, a handful of skeletons for the trickier or more tedious craftwork.  There's no guestroom, though; just a cellar.  You okay with that?"

 Velinaer chuckled, pleased.  "You kidding?  Don't you know liches love dungeons?"

***

 It had, in the end, been a pretty narrow thing; Cheis's curiosity, as always, ended up being just the slighest bit stronger than her common sense, and after she'd crashed Velinaer's noumenal processor, she'd been unable to resist digging around in the core dump.  It had taken her a while to cobble together a working translation dictionary between the Shul runic format and her own, but it had been a rewarding process that had yielded many ancillary discoveries, such as a highly useful Shul-to-Temuri real-time translation matrix.  Eventually, she stumbled upon the rebuild-and-restart commands, and by that time, she had read enough of the cognitive logs that Velinaer's mind had generated before its cessation to take a (very small and very apprehensive) leap of faith.  The rest, as they say, was history.

 Velinaer proved to be the best companion she'd ever had by several orders of magnitude; he was quiet, kept to himself, had no biological needs or necessities to distract her at inconvenient times, and provided the absolute best fireside and dinner-table conversation she could possibly imagine.  It would be misleading to say that they fell in love; their actual mechanics of consociation, which were profoundly intellectual and mostly platonic by nature, were the much more elemental dynamics of two people-adjacent entities having exactly the sort of complimentary traumas and interests which precede a long and fruitful partnership.  For many years, they lived and worked together like two halves of a whole; they did research, tinkered with various astral and physical phenomena, exchanged a great deal of cultural material, and occasionally did the odd bit of monster-slaying.  Their careers were long and storied, though the tales never seemed to mention Velinaer; after all, doesn't one expect a legendary necromancer to have at least one skeletal minion in attendance?

 But, regrettably, nothing lasts forever.  Her ability to back up and restore her physical form gave Cheis a much longer lifespan than the average human; but eventually, errors accumulated, neurological configuration updates took their toll, and time progressed.  Velinaer, totally adamant that they could replicate and improve upon his framework, worked night and day for decades; the first few prototypes were worryingly misbehaved (he had to rebuild the entire house at least once), but progress was progress, after all.  Alone, neither of them would likely have been successful; but with the two of them working together, the results were practically a foregone conclusion.

 After the final successful test, Cheis and Velinaer shed their physical selves for the last time and looked around; the world was quite rich and satisfyingly fractal in a sustained astral state.  The stars above, around, and within all things beckoned to them with transfinite possibilities; unbidden, a shared great metaphorical shout of joy arose from them, echoing outwards across the manifolds of existence.  They never expected to receive a reply; but when they got one, echoing back from an innumerable number of sources, it wasn't verbose.  The message consisted of four words, bearing within them a door to a more complex and immensurable realm of possibilities than they ever dreamed:

 read the FAQ, noobs.

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A note from AMBLE

THE END!

Thanks for reading my story.  I want to take a moment to give particular thanks to everyone who rated, commented, and especially those who left reviews (and double especially those who left advanced reviews!)

If you are interested in seeing the book formally published (with proper editing and actual distribution), please leave a comment to that effect!  If you're interested in my other projects, please feel free to follow me on Twitter!

A few things people have asked me about:

Q: Will there be more Cheis of Veraleigh books/stories?
A: I don't know!  It all depends on how interested people are.

Q: Do you have a Patreon/Donation system or anything?
A: Nope!  If you want to support Avaunt or any of my other projects, just tell other people you like them.  That's all!

Q: What else are you working on?
A: My current main project is the Visual Novel series Neophelion, but I also dabble in other stuff.  If people are interested, I'll tweet about it!

Thanks for everything!

-- AMBLE


About the author

AMBLE

  • Amateur Author, Professional Loon

Bio: https://twitter.com/secretly_amble

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