"Do you have a few minutes to talk, little shadow?"

 

Doradrassil smiled. Aertemis had always been able to sneak up on her, and the sudden sound of her voice had long since stopped making her jump. "Of course," she answered, looking up from some papers in the direction of the voice.

 

Aertemis ghosted into plain sight, and stood still for a moment before she spoke. "I just wanted to say something that went unsaid for too long." Doradrassil straightened up, confused. This wasn't like Aertemis at all. "I want you to know that I'm proud to have trained you."

 

Doradrassil felt a pang of conflicting emotions in her chest. She was glad for such a high compliment from one who likely could go toe-to-toe with Maiev herself, but…

 

"This is the kind of talk that comes from one who's about to leave and isn't coming back," she finished aloud. She consciously avoided looking in the Dark Portal's direction, as if not wanting to give Aertemis any ideas. "Is something wrong?"

 

"There are a lot of unknowns about what we're about to face," Aertemis said plainly. "I'm going in the first wave."

 

Doradrassil looked back down at her papers. "Actually, that's what I was looking over. Plans for the counter-invasion. I was, frankly, hoping you might wait for the second wave."

 

Aertemis' face was momentarily unable to hide her surprise. "Second wave?" she asked. "Why? You would have me idle?"

 

"Not idle," Doradrassil answered. "There's still plenty to do here. But it's like you said. There are many unknowns. If the first wave falls…" She looked at her old trainer. "The second should be a stronger one to keep them off balance."

 

Aertemis' mouth curled slightly in a smile.

 

"At worst," Doradrassil continued, "even should the first wave perish, we can soften them up. Then with a stronger second wave, instead of a chance to regroup…"

 

"We keep them on the defensive," Aertemis finished.

 

"Precisely." Now, Doradrassil did turn toward the Dark Portal, its crimson glow still lighting the soldiers that poured through, dozens an hour. "Now, we may not know what kind of defenses are on the other side, but we can make some intelligent plans regardless. It's remarkable how many people have suggested destroying the Dark Portal from this side, and we know the reason why that doesn't work."

 

"You can destroy the structure, but the portal remains, right?" Aertemis confirmed.

 

"Right," Doradrassil said with a nod. "Apparently Archmage Khadgar tried that before, with little result. Now, I don't grasp portals the way mages do, so I consulted your friend Rann. She claims the rift stays because the Dark Portal has been here, active, for so long. It's as though it's stabilized and settled into a rut, becoming a permanent feature."

 

She looked at Aertemis with a grin. "But consider this: whatever portal is on the other side only just connected to our world a couple of weeks ago. The one on their side could be destroyed. That means they can't point too much heavy artillery at it for fear of destroying their doorway. Which should give us a brief window of opportunity to get our bearings and assess the situation when we push through."

 

Aertemis smiled. "Now that's something we can work with."

 

Doradrassil crossed her arms, allowing herself to feel satisfied. "It is something. Now, the Templars' Black Watch are split between the two waves. Assuming the other side's portal is destroyed, magi will be critical for getting our people home…or for summoning reinforcements. The Black Watch's key mage, Sumeri, will be in the first wave, Rann likely in the second. Archmage Khadgar will probably be along on one of those teams as well."

 

She suddenly looked over at Aertemis. "Speaking of the Black Watch though, that reminds me. While you're still here, spare an eye for Mallory when you get the chance… When she thinks she's alone she swings her staff around a little too much, and pretends she's on the Black Watch."

 

Aertemis snickered.

 

"It's entertaining, but I do worry that she fancies herself as one of them, probably from the day she fought on the front lines with them when this whole mess began."

 

"I don't think Mallory even considers herself to be in the same…weight-class as the rest," Aertemis said. "She's enthusiastic, but not stupid."

 

"She crept right up to the front lines, right under Zaela's nose."

 

"Surrounded by the BLACK WATCH," Aertemis pointed out. "She was probably safer there than anywhere else. Still, I'll keep an eye on her."

Author Rann
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