“I don’t know if we can go today,” I mumbled, fighting the urge to slide down the doorway until I was sitting, unsure if I would be able to stand again. “I have plane shift, but we have no way of knowing where in Byss we’ll show up. If we show up three hundred miles way, that will be quite a march. There’s a stronger spell called gate that works like a portal and could take all of us to a specific location, but I don’t have it memorized.”
I bit my lip, feeling the tension grow around me, hearts sinking at the news. I didn’t want to admit I hadn’t recovered my magic for the day, though they were bound to have noticed something was amiss. Maybe not. Cheshire was focused on Alix and Alix was lost in his tormented recollection. His family, his sister…even to save her, I don’t know that I could hurt Áine.
“How about your well?” Cheshire asked, looking at the emerald circling above my head and wringing her hands. “Or maybe I could give you some of my magic?”
“I…don’t think I could use arcane magic to power a divine spell, even blending it with what’s stored in my well. Besides, trying something experimental like that on a mass interplanar travel spell could be disastrous. If it goes wrong, we would all be scattered across the multiverse.”
“Can you go ahead of us to find Ulkair and open the gate tomorrow?” Cheshire asked.
“Then I would be alone somewhere in Byss. We don’t even know if Ulkair is there right now,” I said, though part of me knew where he was. Where better to be in pain than in the remnants of his cave? Tears stung in my eyes at the thought that he would rather be alone in his prison than with me, but I blinked them back. Now wasn’t the time for that.
“Could we buy a scroll?” Mimi asked. “Or get someone to cast it for us?”
“It’s a very powerful spell. There probably aren’t many here who can cast it and I’m relatively certain none who have been to Byss. It’s like teleport. You have to picture where you’re going as you cast the spell,” I explained.
“I guess I’m going to the marketplace to get a scroll of gate then,” Cheshire sighed.
“If we all go, we could just leave from there,” Mimi chirped.
“If we all go, we’ll be a crowd of fifty clueless. The children have to come and most of them can’t be seen. Alix and I will just go and get it and come right back. Nerida’s exhausted. She doesn’t need to be tromping all over Sigil.”
“I’m going with you,” I insisted.
“Nerida, I’ll be okay. I’m just going to the market. You look like you can’t move.”
“I can move…” I mumbled, leaving out how difficult it was to do so.
“We’ll be fine. Just stay here and be ready and don’t let the place burn down or let the kids steal anything, okay?” Cheshire said, passing the babies to me.
I felt I should insist on going with her, offer what assistance I could, but I didn’t have the energy to argue. Nodding, I cuddled the babies to my chest and slowly slid down the wall until I was sitting on the ground. Relief flooded through me as I sagged back against the wall, the call of sleep bidding my eyes to close. The voices in the room faded to distant whispers, their meaning lost to me as my eyes slid shut.
“Nerida,” Cheshire whispered, gently shaking me. “Nerida, can you look at this scroll with me? I think I understood the instructions, but you’re familiar with this spell, right?”
“A scroll?” I echoed, blinking a couple times in confusion until I remembered what we’d been working on through the haze in my mind. “Oh yea, the gate spell. I’m familiar with the divine equivalent.”
Returning to Byss, seeking out the truth muddled among my fears. I took the scroll from Cheshire’s proffered hand, looking over what instructions were included on casting it. Arcane diagrams lined the pages, only vaguely familiar from what I’d been studying with Ulkair. They were obviously for teleportation magic, some kind of procedure to stabilize the magic for when something…appeared? I held the page a little closer, trying to make out a symbol Ulkair had shown me before, but I’d never seen him use. A magical being…a demon?
“These diagrams are for a summoning ritual, if you want to call a demon to you. We find enough trouble without looking,” I mumbled, my eyes still scanning the rest of the page. “It’s just like casting teleport, but bigger and louder. You start the spell and then sort of stabilize it into a portal that will last as long as you concentrate on it. You can cast teleport or spells of that level, right?”
“Ummm….yup….I’m sure it’ll be fine…” Cheshire mumbled, her face paling.
“I…can’t use arcane scrolls, but if you can start it, I can use my magic to help you control it? I can’t access arcane magic on my own, but I’m pretty familiar with manipulating it once I have it now,” I hummed, kissing Cheshire’s forehead.
I passed the babies back to her and climbed to my feet, the very core of my being crying out, pleading that we rest, but waiting any longer wasn’t an option. Making my way back to our room, I grabbed Anduin and my bag, leaning heavily on the trident as I walked back to join my companions, the children already sitting around waiting for us.
Cheshire held the scroll in her uncertain hands, wide eyes looking up at me. Standing behind her, I wrapped my arms around her, resting my hands over hers, taking long, deep breaths in hopes Cheshire would do the same. She relaxed ever so slightly in my arms and I felt arcane magic ignite, stronger than anything I’d felt Ulkair use or cast myself. Bending the multiverse to our will and linking two planes never meant to touch together for a time was no simple task. I closed my eyes, focusing on controlling the magic, containing it just enough so Cheshire could direct it. The act was similar to casting my own upper level spells, but the arcana burned my hands, searing my weary mind as Ulkair’s magic never did. Just a little longer…Cheshire would finish the spell soon and the feeling would fade, leaving me with my own soothing magic.
Cheshire hummed, her music wrapping around the magic of the scroll and funneling it into the gate we sought, a vertical slash of light appearing before us, spinning to create the portal. On the other side, I saw the entrance of Byss waiting, a beacon against the once lethal surroundings. The children whimpered and shrank away from the display. Cheshire made hushing noises and walked up to them, trying to calm them enough that they would come with us.
“High priest Agorran is never going to forgive us for bringing so many people here,” I mumbled, thinking about our last visit, the look in his eyes so different from what I was used to with the gentle man. He so readily accepted all of us, despite everything that had happened, but something seemed to have changed in the reconstruction of the city.
“Why would Agorran be mad?” Cheshire asked, looking back at me.
“He was pretty upset about the other man we brought here.”
“I’m going to take them all and give them jobs to do in the city while we’re busy and it will be fine. Agorran will get over it. There are way bigger problems,” Cheshire mumbled, pulling Ragnarok out, playing the song she used as a sort of lullaby for them the other night.
The children looked at each other, still unsure of the display of magic, if it was safe to go through. Lóin smiled faintly at them, walking through and waving from the other side. A boy and girl looked at each other, trepidation lingering on their faces, but they held each others hand and stepped through the portal. Wide smiles spread across their faces smelling the clean air in Byss, the sun shining on their pale faces as they beckoned the others to join them. Stepping through the portal myself, a wave of Ulkair’s feels washed over me for a moment before largely vanishing. He knew I was here and he was withdrawing again….
“Can you feel Ulkair now?” Cheshire asked, looking up at me.
“Yes, he’s here,” I mumbled, wrapping my arms around myself, wishing they were his instead.
“Can you go and find him?”
“I think he’s quite far away. I could start walking, but I suspect that would take a few days…”
“Can you talk to him and tell him to please come to Byss and that I need him?”
You need him? Like I don’t? Like my soul isn’t screaming to be with its other half? Needing him didn’t keep him at my side when I could barely move or even think. My needing him wasn’t enough, but of course yours would be different. You didn’t make him cry with every conversation. You didn’t push him back to the heart of his despair. He told me he would never leave unless I pushed him away, so that must be what I’d done. If just what we’d said this morning pushed him this far, then what would telling him about Elysia do? Just feeling me here, he withdrew further. What if this was the last straw, the final insult? He did risk my life to “save” Elysia, and now…
‘Ulkair…? There are some parts of my dream I didn’t mention,’ I began, trying to think of what to tell him.
Fear tainted my heart, whispering that if I said the wrong thing, I would chase him away entirely. I taunted him with death and the destruction of his soul, gods and oracular visions. What could be worse than hearing that perhaps he hadn’t saved his belovèd home as he thought he had? He thought of nothing else for two thousand years, risked everything to try to make amends for what he had done. If I needed to tell him, I should at least do it in person so I could be near him, hold his hand. I felt his emotions washing over me, petulant melancholy, but not the…anger I was expecting? The hurt, the betrayal, the dismissal. I held tight to him, fearing he would vanish at any moment.
‘I’m glad you came, Nerida,’ Ulkair murmured, resting his head on my shoulder. ‘I was going to wait until you found me, but I see you’re getting better at finding me with your mind. I’m glad there’s more to the dream than what you told me.’
‘That’s what I was worried about, but…’ I trailed off, fighting for the words I knew would break his battered heart, but still I needed to tell him.
‘There’s always more, isn’t there?” Ulkair sighed.
‘And I feel I should tell you the rest in person,’ I concluded.
‘I…guess I’ll feel like leaving tomorrow. I’ll see you then,’ Ulkair said and his presence faded from my mind, leaving me a hollow shell.
I felt my resolve crumble at his words, tears welling in my eyes. He…really didn’t want to be near me…he said he was glad I came, but still he chose his prison. Why…?
“He doesn’t want to see me until tomorrow,” I breathed, clenching my fists.
“Fine. We’ll take care of it ourselves then,” Cheshire ground out, her lips drawn into a fine line as she turned towards the city, motioning the children to follow her.
My heart fell watching her walk away from me, the anger in her voice cutting down to the core of my being. I wasn’t enough for either of them…maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, just let well enough alone. If I didn’t want or need anything, if I were strong enough to always be there for them when they needed me, maybe then they wouldn’t leave me. I tried so hard, but it was enough, I was never enough….
I heard a popping noise and water slashing onto the ground beside us, a small, greenish blue crab slowly opening and closing its pincers before itself standing in the middle of the puddle. I knelt down and gingerly picked the crab up, careful not to hurt him as I had when he was a bird, though I expected him to skitter away from me.
“Nerida, when there’s a problem this big, you should say something,” Ulkair said, turning back into himself and draping his arms around me before looking at Cheshire. “I’m so sorry, Cheshire. What exactly is wrong?”
“Elysia may not be as gone as we thought it was…” I whispered, watching his face for his reaction.
“What?” Ulkair cried, putting his head in his hands.
“That’s why I wanted to tell you in person. In my dream…or, maybe we should go find High Priest Agorran and tell everyone at once,” I suggested.
“Umm, maybe we should let Alix talk to Agorran,” Cheshire said.
“I feel like there will be a lot of self-loathing in that conversation,” I commented.
“It’s not our business, Nerida,” Cheshire chastised. “It’s not our pain and you can’t possibly understand.”
All I could do was stare at her for a time, wondering what she thought of me. I knew pain, I knew loss, I had felt the crushing weight of millennia of despair and anguish not my own, but still my heart bled. I may not have felt his pain as she had through her bond with the ranger, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t understand. If Alix asked to speak to him alone, I would naturally respect his wishes, but the request hadn’t come from him.
“I seem to be very good at not understanding of late,” I bitterly stated.
“Yes, well,” Cheshire began, starring angrily at me.
“Anyway,” I said, looking back at Ulkair before I fought with the bard further when there wasn’t time for bickering. “I dreamed of that dinner party we had when High Priest Agorran and Will came to Alix’s house and everything was great, except for when I looked at High Priest Agorran and I thought Alix was sitting quite close to him. Then I realized that it wasn’t Alix, but a woman that looked remarkably like him and there was a silhouette of a woman behind him looking just like what I imagine Alix’s mother might. Strings were wound around her fingers and she was controlling both of them. Over by Lóin, Vhailor was sitting with the immortal child on his lap and she was laughing at the idea that Elysia had been saved.”
“Let’s go look at that mirror,” Ulkair said, taking a shaky breath.
“I’m so sorry, Ulkair,” I mumbled, holding him tight and burying my face in his hair.
“This is a much more immediate problem and I’m sorry to continue to visit my sins upon Byss,” Ulkair sighed again. “We’ll look into the mirror and perhaps Alix should speak with Agorran.”
“We possibly should check on that man we brought here too,” I suggested. “I don’t know if he’s involved, but he was in both versions of the dream, the one I first saw and the one Lord Eadro helped me sift through. I stood up from the table suddenly and I knocked over my plate. It shattered and he tsked at me and picked it up. It could be nothing, but it’s like he was an attendant there, a rather subservient position. I don’t know if he has any affiliation with the vampires if they’re back or whatever it is that’s crawled out of Elysia. I don’t know if he’s involved or will be. He is not a good person and if he doesn’t like what he finds in Byss, I worry that he might go to them. In the meantime, if we can, we should keep an eye on him.”
“Alright, I’ll go find something for all these children to do rather than steal from our countrymen,” Cheshire sighed, walking off with them.
“Let’s go to the temple and investigate the mirror,” Ulkair said, pulling away from me.
Looking at him, I bit my lip and held my hand out, waiting for him to take it. He said he was glad I came and wrapped his arms around me of his own accord, but still I couldn’t dismiss the anxiety clawing at my heart that he would say no. Maybe it was just my tired mind making everything seem worse than it was, each sharp word or angry glance cutting deeper than they should, but I felt an eternity pass in what moments it took for him to take my hand. His warmth suffused through me, calming the anxieties whispering from the corner of my mind.
“It’s alright, Nerida. I’ve always known your god was important to you, I just…it wasn’t a gentle way to dash my hopes.”
“What hopes did I dash?” I asked, my heart falling again.
“We just talked about blending our souls and our magic and become one in magic
“Why can’t we still do that?” I asked. We’d already started to anyway, sharing all of our spells, our souls already fused, though I couldn’t think of a time he’d mentioned blending them further than that or what would happen to us.
“Being an oracle I think would largely prevent that.”
“Haven’t we already blended our magic?”
“It could have just gone to a level beyond even that, but it would be very difficult and I don’t think Eadro would approve if you’re going to be his oracle.”
“I could ask him,” I mumbled, holding his hand over my heart.
“You’re welcome to. I won’t.”
“Well, we will have time to see,” I mumbled, nuzzling his hand. What years I never thought I would have, I would fight to spend with him, decades beyond what I should have had.
“Regardless, it’s not important now. We have bigger problems,” Ulkair said, squeezing my hand.
I nodded and we walked towards the temple in silence, not entirely uncomfortable, but not what we usually had. My mind whirled with anxieties about my dream, Agorran, Cheshire, Ulkair, why I was so tired, exhaustion far beyond what a single sleepless night should have left me with. At least…at least Ulkair was with me. For everything else, we would work something out.
Passing through the temple, I blushed faintly to see Ulkair’s mural was still on the wall, thinking it might have faded after we left the plane. Ulkair glanced up at me and grinned, holding his hand out and casting glitterdust on the mural as was his and Cheshire’s want. Shaking my head, we walked back to the vault housing the mirror, only to stop in our tracks opening the door. The wall the mirror had been hung on was empty, nothing else touched or moved out of place as well as I could recall.
“The mirror is gone,” I announced to the first priest I could find, expecting at least a look of shock, but he looked at me as though we were only discussing the weather.
“Oh yea, the mirror was set up in the town monument where all the statues are. With Elysia gone, we didn’t think it had to be guarded,” he stated, shrugging.
“What statues?” I asked, my brows knitting together.
“Has no one told you? We’re making statues of all of you.”
“You mean of Alix?” I tried to clarify.
“His is the biggest. They’re not all finished yet, but smaller ones of everyone else surround him.”
“So the mirror is surrounded by images of all of us?” I sighed, running my hand through my hair. If whatever had crawled out of Elysia had any doubts about whom it was looking for, it wouldn’t any longer. “Where is this monument?”
“It’s in the center of town between the residential area and the marketplace,” he said, not seeming to understand the connection, though there was no reason to elaborate and concern him further.
“Thank you,” I said, inclining my head towards him and we took our leave.
Walking through the city, I felt nothing out of place, no disturbance, no undead, no evil, nothing that would suggest anything was amiss. Elysia had to be connected to this somehow. If it weren’t, Lord Eadro wouldn’t have shown me the immortal child remarking on the once paradise. Arriving at the town square, half-carved statues met my gaze, Alix the most recognizable after what little time they’d had since our initial departure to work on them. The last remaining mirror in Byss was propped up against Alix’s statue, looking as it always had.
“Ulkair, what should we be looking for?” I asked, staring into the surface of the large mirror.
“I mean, it depends on when it came through if it came through this mirror. If it came through more than maybe a week ago or really even more than a day or so, its presence would be gone.” Ulkair said, moving his hand before him as he began muttering arcane words.
“I meant to memorize true seeing this morning, but I didn’t get my spells back,” I murmured, staring blankly at my hands, the positive energy I should have felt coming from them. Though I still had what magic I hadn’t used yesterday, I felt like I had failed somehow.
“It’s impossible to tell,” Ulkair sighed, his detection spells yielding nothing.
“Should we move it somewhere? Put a seal on it so nothing else can pass through it?”
“We could just try to open it and see what happens,” Ulkair suggested, resting his hand on the mirror’s surface.
“If we do that, we should wait until there are more of us.”
“That’s probably wise. I guess do we really even know there’s a problem yet? Your dream could just be predicting something.”
“I suppose. We would have to talk to High Priest Agorran and see if anything has happened. He didn’t mention anything when we were here last week, though I suspect he will be preoccupied for a while,” I mumbled.
Such news…could only be painful, scars that had roughly healed years ago and still ached from time to time. I’d wanted to be there to try to mitigate some of Alix’s blame on himself, soften the blow as much as it could be, but my presence was unwanted. Alix may not have spoken up initially, but he didn’t correct Cheshire either. Still, they’d known each other longer than I’d been alive and what words I’d spoken today had only served to make matters worse. It was best to give them what space they needed.
“Whatever happens, we’ll be together, belovèd,” Ulkair said, a concerned look upon his face. “Perhaps all we can do for now is wait.”
Waiting…what I least wanted to do when something was wrong. Idleness was wasting precious time that could save someone, earn us something that could give us an advantage but there wasn’t anything else I could think to do, not until we heard back from Alix. Waiting, time to see what would happen here, what would become of my vision, future visions. They would grow stronger, wouldn’t they? Perhaps not more frequent, necessarily, so much as simply as often as needed, but they would grow. My fate, my life, I’d given them to Lord Eadro, but Ulkair held my heart and soul, whatever compromise we might find in time.
“I suppose you’re right,” I sighed, pulling him into my arms again. “You’re too good at doing that, though it beats the alternative. Life with an idiot would be terrible.”
“Indeed. I find the company of intelligent, beautiful women far superior to idiots. I’m… just so glad I’m not alone anymore,” he said as leaned his head on my shoulder and closed his eyes.
“I can think of no fate worse than being separated from you,” I murmured, resting my face atop his head.
Ulkair sighed contently, snuggling closer to me. After this morning, the visions, the arguments, everything that had happened, perhaps a moment of idleness was warranted. I hadn’t pushed Ulkair away, Cheshire was tending to her followers, Alix was talking to Agorran, and we would save Byss from Elysia a second time if that is what we needed to do. Ulkair’s warmth surrounded me and I felt all desire to do anything but sleep flee, my knees almost buckling.
“Are you okay, belovèd?” Ulkair asked, caressing the side of my face as he looked up at me, concern heavy in his golden eyes.
“I’m…just tired,” I mumbled, leaning into his hand. “Perhaps we should wait at the temple.”
Ulkair frowned, but nodded and be began a slow walk back to the temple. Just inside the entrance, I found a clear spot on the wall and slide down to sit on the ground, telling myself that we should be near the entrance to make sure we didn’t miss any of our companions coming or going. Ulkair curled up in my lap and I wrapped my arms around him, much as we sat for our prayer and meditation each morning. My lips turned up into a small smile and I rested my face atop Ulkair’s head, my eyes growing heavy. We needed to be here, to be ready…but there was nothing to do but wait for now. I could close my eyes for just a moment…
Ulkair lightly shook my shoulder, crouching beside me rather than curled up in my lap as he had been just a second ago. I must have dozed off…looking around, I saw Cheshire standing a short ways ahead of me, her gaze locked on Alix as she nervously wrung her hands. The ranger’s face was ashen, shaken, his fists clenched tightly at his sides.
“Well, I…don’t know what to say, Cheshire,” Alix said, coming to stand before the bard and shaking his head.
“What happened?” Cheshire asked, cautiously reaching her hand out towards him, though she paused midway.
“He wants to know why I would open old wounds and that he forgave me all those years ago because he thought we would all die soon, but now he has to live a long life with this. He wonders why I prod at his pain,” Alix all but breathed, his eyes distant, almost vacant.
“Did you tell him what Nerida said?”
“Yes. He said he thinks he would know if there were undead, if his future mother-in-law that died seventeen years ago were back or if his lover were around.”
Cheshire took Alix’s hand, looking intently at him as I suspected I did when I was speaking to Ulkair in my mind, their words not meant for our ears or she was concerned about someone else overhearing. Agorran…was being controlled in my dream. I couldn’t believe that he would so casually disregard a message from our god warning us of the presence of undead after the centuries the vampires had been here.
“Alix, there are undead here,” Lóin spoke up, looking at the ranger.
“You know for sure?” Cheshire asked.
“Show me,” Alix stated, stepping towards the dragon.
Lóin nodded mutely, leading us back into the temple to the small memorial for his mother, where his father’s scale with her likeness etched into it was held. He gently rested his fingertips on the scale, lost in thought for a moment before he turned back to us.
“I came here to, you know, send well wishes and all and I saw a shadow pass. Selene didn’t notice, so I cast a spell to detect undead and I passed out it was so powerful, but it wasn’t familiar. I don’t think it was anything we’ve encountered before.”
Alix’s eyes narrowed and he edged closer to the scales, watching where he was stepping and scanning every surface for any sign of the shadow Lóin saw or what might have overpowered him.
“I think I see,” Alix began, running his finger along the wall. “It would be easy to miss, but there’s just the slightest, slightest residue.”
“Slightest residue of what?” I asked, grimacing watching the ranger bring his finger to his lips to taste the substance before spitting it out.
“Ectoplasm. There has been something in here.”
“Should I try to detect it again? Maybe I won’t pass out this time and actually help find it,” Lóin said, his eyes flickering about the room, looking for any sign of the shadow.
“You would know that best,” Alix said.
A determined look came over Lóin’s face and he stepped closer to the scales again. He took a deep breath and I felt his magic filling the room, looking for what creature dare taint these halls. His hands flew to the sides of his face and he squeezed his eyes shut, swaying on his feet before he collapsed. Selene was at his side in a moment, shaking the dragon. But moments passed before icy blue eyes fluttered open again and he lifted his hand to cover Selene’s on his shoulder.
“This is what happens if you try to divine the location of one too strong for your senses,” Alix said, frowning. “Many a priest has had this outcome on missions with me. Generally, it means that it is much more powerful than the person casting it.”
“Your magic is probably way stronger than Lóin’s,” Cheshire said, looking up at me.
“And I have an innate ability to find things, it would seem,” I replied.
“Indeed,” Ulkair said, a forced smile spreading across his grim face.
“I don’t have any scrying spells, but I could try another spell,” I said. If nothing else, maybe I would figure something out about this ghost or whatever we were looking for.
Taking a deep breath, I called on my own magic to search for the presence, immediately feeling something around me. So it was here, but where? I focused my magic following it to its source, wherever it was hiding in our city. Something came over me, what I was looking for finding me instead as overwhelming evil surrounded me. I felt like I was falling, drowning as all light extinguished around me, lost to the shadows consuming me. My eyes flew open and I tried to scramble back away from the darkness, but I couldn’t seem to lift my arms so impossibly heavy at my sides.
“Nerida!” Ulkair called, cupping my face in his hand. “Nerida, are you okay?”
“Ulkair? Y-yea, I’m fine…” I mumbled, leaning into his chest, realizing I was lying on the ground. “It was just…stronger than I expected. I was hoping I would at least be able to figure something out about it, but one moment I was fine and in the next, all light was lost…”
Ulkair hugged me and helped me to my feet, a task yet so much more difficult than it should have been, but we knew for certain now that the presence of undeath tainted these halls, something stronger than any one of us, including Agorran. I had certainly faced worse than soul-shattered exhaustion and I couldn’t give in now, not while my high priest needed me. Looking around, I saw Cheshire’s worried eyes staring up at me.
“I-I’m sorry Nerida, I didn’t think it would hurt you…” Cheshire mumbled, wringing her hands before hugging my waist.
“It didn’t. It just…overwhelmed me a little for a moment,” I said, loosely wrapping my arms around her.
Cheshire paused, regarding me for a moment as though something had suddenly occurred to her. She closed her eyes briefly, listening? Her eyes slowly opened and she released her hold on me, following something I couldn’t discern. I wrapped my arm around Ulkair’s waist and followed her through the temple, slowly leading us back to Agorran’s office.
“Alix…this…is the only place I don’t feel Tubatron’s holy presence or hear my song…” Cheshire all but breathed, staring in horror up at the door.
Alix nodded, stepping up to the door and kicking it down, drawing his sword in a smooth movement. Brandishing his great sword, he grabbed Selene by her arm, practically throwing her at the high priest.
“You said you can push spirits out of people’s bodies. Do it,” Alix commanded. “This room is covered in ectoplasm.”
Caspian looked between us and raised her arms, her magic filled the room and flowing through each of us, granting us all uncommon strength for what fight seemed to be ahead of us.
“I’ll be right back,” Ulkair muttered, teleporting away with the babies in his arms.
I looked in horror at Agorran, tightening my grip on Anduin. I…I couldn’t possibly attack him, drench his office in his own blood. I couldn’t kill him again. Souls…ghosts..that ghost that was possessing Cheshire I was able to pull out with Anduin, but I couldn’t risk attacking him. Though…after Elysia with that demon that possessed Alix, I’d studied exorcisms, an art lost, unnecessary in Zissyx. I’d never been able to practice the skill, but if there was even the chance it could save Agorran without hurting him, it’d be worth it.
I extended my hand towards him, focusing on Lord Eadro’s power, his light that could chase out any darkness. Agorran stiffened as I poured positive energy into him, his own oddly absent, masked by the foul creature controlling him. His face contorted in pain and he hunched over with his arms wrapped tightly around himself, a feminine scream tearing from his throat. Agorran collapsed to the ground and the woman from my dreams, Alix’s mother appeared before him. Lóin looked uncertainly at his hand, pale, sea green light forming in his open palm before he thrust his hand towards Alix’s mother. The light coalesced and a ray shot out, striking the shade and reflecting harmlessly into the ground.
“You are weak, dragon,” she sneered, narrowing her eyes at us.
Cheshire shifted behind me, glancing briefly between Agorran and Alix before she darted forward, reaching for the high priest yet crouching on the ground to see if he was okay. An exorcism was certainly more gentle than ripping the spirit out of his body with a trident, but I didn’t know what other damage might have been done by my hand or the ghost’s.
“Get away from him!” the ghost shrieked, knocking Cheshire back away from them.
“This is not your temple and this is not your home!” Cheshire screamed back, throwing herself at Agorran.
She stared into his vacant eyes, pressing her fingers against his wrist, trying to assess what damage we might have done. Feeling her touch, he flinched violently, jumping to his feet and looking around the room.
“What’s going on?” Agorran groggily called, his gaze resting on Alix for an explanation.
“I know a lot about undead, but you seem awfully solid,” Alix spat, his eyes narrowing. “That didn’t feel like an exorcism, that felt like an act to me.”
Alix leapt forward with his great swords, carving into the ghost, or what was pretending to be a ghost. With each swing, his blades knocked her farther back into the room until she was leaning heavily against the back wall, black ooze leaking from the corner of her mouth.
“You always were such a clever killer,” his mother ground out, her tone too soft, perhaps one a parent might use with their child but for her words.
Her head fell back and a terrible screech filled the room, shaking the very core of my being. My hands flew over my ears for what protection they could offer, but still her piercing wail threatening to shatter my mind. Blood oozed from my ears and my own shrieks joined the banshee’s, lost to the cacophony of anguish. Collapsing in a heap, my forehead pressed against the cool stone of the ground, offering no relief. Her screech slowly faded as the undead creature faded into the wall. My vision swam as I glanced up, groaning at the small motion.
“Where! Is! Agorran!?” Alix demanded, glaring at the form of the high priest yet in the middle of the room, carving into him with each word and with each slash the form of the high priest wavered until it settled into that of his sister.
“You’ve done it again, Brother,” the young woman said, looking sadly at him, her form fading from view.
Both of Alix’s swords fell from his hands as he dropped to his knees, staring vacantly at the place where his sister stood but moments before, the puddle of ectoplasm remaining. Cheshire knelt beside him, wrapping her arms around him and resting her face on his shoulder.
“We’ll find Agorran,” Cheshire whispered, holding him tight, but he made no indication he even heard her. “Alix?”
Ulkair appeared in the middle of the room, his hands poised to fill the room with his arcane might when he paused, looking around in confusion. Stepping up to him, I wrapped my arms around him, explaining what happened in the mere moments he was gone as Cheshire’s soft, broken voice ressounded with a song for Alix. Agorran….really wasn’t here….so where was he? And how long had be been gone? Was it him I spoke to when I was here last week? The only times I had seen such anger on his face as I had last week was against undead and when I’d told him about slavery in Zissyx. I…should have known…I should have stayed, found him. A week was not long, and yet, in so few days I had gone from being another rube following Alix around through the marshlands to a commander leading the entire city to war against vampires. So much could happen in even so little time.
Ulkair walked over to investigate the puddle, casting a few detection spells on what remained. His frown deepened as he looked around the room, the residual magic glowing not only from the ectoplasm, if that’s what it truly was, but the entire room.
“Yes, there were some elaborate illusions in play here that are just now dispelling,” Ulkair muttered.
“So they weren’t ghosts?” I asked.
“I think that his sister was a ghost, but his mother was not.”
“Then why did the exorcism work?” I asked, frowning. Had I done something wrong after all? I’d been so happy to finally be able to put the skill to use, only to find out it was a lie.
“They knew you could do that and that you probably would, is my guess. They staged it to make us think that was Agorran.”
“There are some undead that can manifest with a particular malice towards a particular object or person and some have great command of illusions and other magic,” I commented, thinking back to what I’d read about undead creatures. “Like with the vampires and Dovev, any undead can control other undead. She could be a remnant with no goal other than to kill Alix or she could be forcing other undead to look like his family. As the Hero of Byss, there probably are a lot of undead that hate him, but there’s no way to know for sure.”
“I thought it was very odd that he didn’t welcome someone with open arms when we brought him…” Alix mumbled, his voice dead, devoid of all emotion.
Cheshire whispered something to him, her voice too soft for me to make out above her weeping. Ulkair crouched beside her and wrapped his arms around her, though she hardly seemed to notice. I wavered on my feet beside him, catching myself a little on his shoulder to remain standing. If I knelt beside them, could I stand up again? I wanted to say yes, of course, but the strain to merely stand gave me pause. Cheshire needed me, Agorran more than anyone needed me, and yet I was so weak.
I heard muffled voices behind me growing louder by the moment, panic woven through them, questioning what was happening, where Agorran was, if undead were back, what was going to happen. Seeing Alix in shambles, their fear only grew, wondering what could possibly take their leader and bring their hero to his knees. Climbing to her feet, Cheshire stepped up to the crowd of Byssians forming, holding her hand out to try to calm them.
“Please, we will find Agorran. Go about your lives and take care of your brothers and sisters in arms. We cannot continue to let undead stain our lives,” Cheshire said, her voice heavy with grief not entirely her own.
“We’re the people who live here! Tell us what’s going on!” someone yelled, anger mixing in with his fear and confusion at the dismissal. “We have to help him, we have to find him! He’s our high priest!”
“Did you bring that with you?” another asked, accusation heavy in her voice.
“No!” Cheshire cried, looking at them at a loss “It was here when we came here. I would appreciate any information anyone might have regarding Agorran’s behaviour the last couple of weeks.”
“He’s just been busy, reclusive,” came the gruff response, all eyes yet on the bard, looking for answers.
“He is our high priest too and we will not rest until we find him,” I said, stepping forward, new determination strengthening my stride. “Lord Eadro told me that Byss was in danger and that is why we came back. We drove the tyranny of undeath out once and we will do it again!”
Looking the crowd over, the very people who once followed a stranger to war, one who was once their enemy, I saw panic fade, leaving a look of almost pained resignation amidst the need to find Agorran. They weren’t an idle people, content to sit back and allow others to resolve anything for them, especially in a situation involving undead. All offered their aid in any way they could, yet reluctant as the crowd dispersed, but so too was a glimmer of hope, trust. They remembered our past victories together and trusted us to do as we said.
“Alix, it looks like that thing was reading all of Agorran’s journals from his whole life. All the pages that are open are about you,” Mimi called from beside the high priest’s desk, looking over the scattered pages.
“I am a blight upon his life. We should burn those books,” Alix ground out, clenching his fists.
“I’m sure there are plenty of other things in those books that Agorran will want when we find him,” Cheshire said, squeezing the ranger’s hand.
“And Nerida may be able to use them to find him. These books are the last item that thing was touching,” Mimi added,
“This puddle of ectoplasm would be a good thing to aid her scrying as well,” Ulkair chimed in, forced neutrality on his face.
“Should I be looking for the thing that took him or High Priest Agorran himself?” I asked, looking between the journals and the ectoplasm.
“Either, though if this is a powerful undead that understands magic, its probably warded against scrying. However, we are powerful. Perhaps we could break through that ward,” Ulkair said.
“We have before,” I commented, nodding slightly.
“We could take the fight to them. According to Nerida’s dream, that’s Elysia,” Cheshire said.
“What would have happened to it after the confluence was destroyed?” I asked, my memory of the events yet hazy, and after we left? What happened to a plane entirely devoid of positive energy?
“It would have gone dark and it should have been relatively impossible to go in or out, but I imagine something powerful enough could get out,” Ulkair said, sighing.
“Ulkair, is this whistle magical now?” Mimi asked, holding the trinket out to him. “A boy stole it from me shortly after we got here, but I hadn’t seen him since in all the time we’ve been here. It was just something I bought on impulse before I came here, but he just showed up and handed it back to me before disappearing.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s magical from you, but there seems to be an enchantment on it,” Ulkair began, turning the whistle over in his hand for a time, inspecting the magic surrounding it. “It appears that when you blow it, this will stun all undead around you for a few seconds.”
“I think you need this more than me,” Mimi said, handing it to Cheshire.
“What did the boy look like?” Alix asked, possibly looking even more haggard than he had before Mimi spoke up about the whistle.
“Well, a little boy,” Mimi began, holding her hand out at about her thigh in indicate his height. “Grey eyes, shaggy, black hair. He smiled a lot.”
“That sounds like what my brother used to look like,” Alix said, his shoulder sagging further. Standing, he turned to look at me with such anguished desperation as I had never seen in him. “I know you have no great love for it, but please, would you try to scry for him?”
“I…don’t have any scrying magic today…” I mumbled, biting my lip. I couldn’t take us here and now I couldn’t even look for Agorran. Whatever that thing might have been doing to him before, now that it knew we were here and looking for him, it could only get worse. Time was of the essence now more than ever. “I could try to just…reach out with my oracular nature, but I’m still not really sure how it works. I don’t know that I could find anything, but it’s worth a shot. In the meantime, could you go find the guy we brought here and interrogate him? Find out if he knows anything, how Agorran has been acting.”
“Nerida’s right. Go find him, stick him in your zone of truth, and find out if he knows anything about this,” Cheshire said, nodding.
“If he was being led to follow them to work for them and if High Priest Agorran was already possessed last week, then he is bound to know something. He’s working in the forge with Will now.”
Nodding, Mimi headed out to the forge, determined to find whatever lead she could there. Cheshire returned to Alix’s side, holding his hand, whispering promises that we would find him, everything would be okay. Ulkair knelt beside her again, gently rubbing her back, occasionally glancing over at me to see what I was doing. I thought to ask him what to do, but he wouldn’t necessarily know either and Cheshire needed him.
Clenching my fists in determination, I walked over to the high priest’s desk, looking over the journals filled with his familiar, near scrawl, the ever-present smell of incense in the room. So many days I’d spent with him here, teaching him about Lord Eadro, our history, the intricacies of our practice, our festivals, our songs, our dances. His soft chuckles as I tried to translate the dances to something suitable to land. I sat heavily in the chair, feeling a crushing weight bear down on my shoulders. This desk, this office I feared would become mine after fighting the vampires, a vacancy I could never fill. So much he’d fought, so much he had bested and now Byss was the paradise he deserved to be happy in. He couldn’t…we couldn’t lose him now.
A single tear slide down my cheek as I shut my eyes, reaching out, looking for him, his gentle presence, though I wasn’t sure how. How could I look without my eyes, see beyond where I was, when I was? How…how didn’t matter because I needed to, one way or another. Taking a deep breath, I allowed my thoughts, my worries, everything to wash away on tides far greater than me, magic, divinity more vast than my mind could contain, but perhaps catching a glimpse would reveal what I needed to know. I reached out, but I felt so…heavy, so weak in comparison and I felt my will begin to crumble under the weight.
Fear crept into my mind, whispering of an unavoidable fate of my broken mind, rampant insanity that would drive Ulkair away from me. On this path, I would lose him, I would lose myself, everything I loved, everything I was. Doubt clawed at me, batted my hand away as though I were a small child than had been caught getting into something I wasn’t supposed to. That journal I read, that was the fate of oracles, of those who saw what wasn’t meant to be seen. No matter how I clung to Ulkair, it wouldn’t be enough. Hadn’t I held tight to Erhu’s small hand as he wasted away? Hadn’t I swam with Zeph every day? Hadn’t I been just beside Áine when she lost her arm and was thrown into the slave pits, deformed, unwanted? So much I had held onto with all I was, but I wasn’t enough, never enough.
I faltered, my mouth opening in a silent scream to deny all it had said, but I could find no opposition. I felt Ulkair’s reassuring presence, his arms wrapping around me, holding me tight as his lips brushed against my forehead. I was stronger now and I wasn’t alone. Ulkair’s love, Lord Eadro’s divine grace, if anything could preserve me, they would. I would be enough for them, for Agorran. He needed me and that was more important than my fears, my failures. Cheshire crying at Alix’s side, her every tear a painful jab to my heart. The ranger I had never seen so hopeless, broken. For them…
Screaming, I punched through the shadows in my way, throwing aside their chains holding me back. Reach out, sea green light washed over me, my fissures glowing as positive energy danced across my skin. Something ignited in me and the exhaustion clouding my mind lifted, my magic restoring. Lord Eadro was at my side, just as he always was, ever guiding me.
My eyes flew open and I sat up with a start, my breath coming out in short gasps. I looked down at my hands, expecting to see sea green light glowing along long fissures, but I saw nothing. Ulkair paused in his pacing to walk up to me, running his finger down the side of my face.
“We can always be strong, when we lift our voices at the first light of dawn, together, Belovèd,” Ulkair said, modifying his treasured song slightly.
“Then would you lift your voice with mine? Perhaps not now or at the first light of dawn, but sometime?” I asked, gently turning his hand over in mine, trailing my fingers across his skin.
“I…can’t sing…but…perhaps…after my own fashion, I will join you,” Ulkair mumbled,
“Have I ever told you about the most beautiful sound I think I’ve ever heard?” I asked, glancing up at him.
“Um, no?” Ulkair responded, regarding me with faint suspicion.
“Well, you see, this one time I was sitting in the arena with this amazing man. I hadn’t known him long at the time, but there was just something about him that drew me to him and had since the day we met. At the time, it was the happiest I’d ever seen him. We were talking about admittedly a ridiculous plan I had concocted to perform a magic trick for him and the glorious sound that fell from his lips brought such joy to my heart,” I mumbled, continuing to describe the sound of his laughter in Elysian.
“I… well,” Ulkair began, the corners of his mouth twitching as he tried and failed to suppress a smile. “I love to hear your voice more, so there!”
Laughing, I pulled him into my arms, realizing it wasn’t difficult to do so. The exhaustion that had plagued me was gone, my magic returning as it might otherwise have this morning. I hadn’t found Agorran as I had hoped to, but now, I could scry for him. My smile faltered, seriousness returning with our grave situation.
“Perhaps you could grace me with your voice another day, but for now, we have a high priest to scry for,” I murmured, taking his hand.
Ulkair nodded, squeezing my hand when Alix’s frantic voice rang out, calling to us. Ulkair and I exchanged a worried glance before we ran out to see Cheshire dashing out the front door, Alix, Lóin and Caspian just behind her. Ulkair held tight to my hand and muttered under his breath, cutting his other hand through the air before him, a shimmering portal appearing he wasted no time jumping through. We appeared outside the temple, running just behind Alix. He appeared to be following a trail, though I couldn’t see anything. Cheshire ran beside him, singing, perhaps illuminating the path he was following.
“I think I know where we need to go,” Alix said, darting away from the town along a path rarely followed.
The arena…where better to keep someone that no one else would notice or think to go near? Just as Typhon kept his second residence so far from the rest of Zissyx. I hadn’t seen much of it aside from the training hall and where we fought, but there must be a place where all the undead were kept, fortified to keep the rest of the city safe from the lethal collection.
“I don’t know exactly what we’ll be facing in there, but I think…my mother wishes to invalidate my victories, so be prepared for the worst,” Alix announced as we approached the entrance.
“Well, we are one victory she can’t invalidate,” Cheshire said, hugging him.
Alix hugged her back, taking a deep breath and lovingly brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. Even if the rest of his family had met a cruel end or turned against him, he still had her, ever a radiant beacon. Alix led us once more into the arena, his mother waiting for us in the middle of the open space, her arms folded tightly across her chest.
“I sensed you were coming. I don’t know quite how you found us, but it’s quite in time,” she said, sneering at Alix, her gaze never straying from him until a flash of yellow caught her eye, a gentle breeze catching the trailing fabric of Cheshire’s dress. Murderous fury filled her eyes and calm, calculated speech turned to shrieks. “How di- how dare you give someone else my dress!”
“You have no more claim to this dress than you do to Alix or this plane or our lives!” Cheshire yelled back, her fists balled up at her sides.
“Alix,” she began, her voice suddenly cool, quiet, but no less indignant. “I demand you send her out right now.”
“You don’t give him orders,” Cheshire seethed.
Without a word, Alix took one of his swords and launched it at the figure standing before us, effectively cleaving straight through her. The two halves of her body fell, motionless. She hadn’t budged, moved a muscle at all, almost as if that was what she’d been waiting for.
“You’re a bad son,” her hollow voice called and a shiver ran up my spine at the unnatural sound.
Black slime oozed out of the halves, exploding away what remained of her flesh and it billowed as smoke, growing and growing until it towered over us all, at least thirty feet tall and about half as wide. A being of shadow, reveling in the corruption and torment of others, a nightwalker. Sharp, curved spikes sprouted across her shoulders, framing her face no longer feminine. Narrow slits turned to look at us in the stead of eyes and skin grew clean over where her mouth should have been, but still she spoke.
“It took a while, but I found my way back out here so I could just give you some discipline, Alix. Give you what you deserve for all that you’ve done to this family. You can thank your friends that made Elysia the way that it is because I would never have been powerful enough without that gift of negative energy they gave me.”
“I know that in a negative energy plane that even for beings that can absorb negative energy, there’s eventually too much. Just like on the positive plane, it heals you and heals you until you’re full of life and vigor, that is until you explode. That was my hope, that the vampires would be so full of negative energy that they would pop, but she must have found a way to just grow until she was powerful enough to leave and her vessel was never destoryed.”
A small boy clutching a skull and a girl materialized on either side of her, both bearing a striking resemblance to Alix. I thought the girl looked like the woman in my dream with Agorran, though she was a twisted, ghoulish version of the one I had seen and it was hard to see her skin rotting of the face I remembered seeing full of such happiness. Looking closer at the little boy, I notice he cradled two skulls in one of his arms, a staff made of what appeared to be bone in his other the hand.
“Be careful. The little one is a skull lord,” I warned, recognizing the undead creature. “They’re capable of raising and controlling lesser undead, wielding bone staves, and they can fire bone shards at range. A favourite trick of theirs is to tear shards of your bones out and spit them back at you with unerring accuracy. Like most undead, he’s immune to the cold. The skulls protect him from injury, but they can only take so much and he’ll lose an ability with each skull destroyed. With the first, he’d lose the ability to create undead and the second his ability to launch bone shards.”
Alix paid little heed to either of the smaller undead, charging instead at the nightwalker his mother had become with his great swords drawn as lighting shot from Aadya’s open palm, darting across the ground as though it were alive. A colossal beast roared behind me and Caspian’s wingless dragon, a megaraptor, I think she called it, charged past me to claw into the ghoul. I glanced between the skull lord and the nightwalker, the latter the obvious threat, but neither should we ignore the other undead. If Ulkair and I could at least return him to the death that once claimed him, then we could all focus on the nightwalker.
Ulkair took my hand and I felt him drawing on my magic, a column of divine fire raining down on both of them, tearing through a shimmering barrier surrounding the nightwalker. I squeezed his hand back and called on the fury of the sun I first used in this arena to burn through what undead they pit us against. Light coalesced in my palm and burned into the skull lord as one of the skulls in his arm began to crack.
Unfazed, the skull lord raised his hand and I stiffened, feeling like tiny, invisible claws were picking at my bones. I instinctively wrapped my arms around myself, but still screams tore from my throat as a terrible cracking sensation resounded through me, my bones splitting apart. They shifted under my skin at the skull lord’s command, heeding his call and tearing out of my body. Groaning, I glanced up to see the bloodied white shards hovering before me, waiting to strike. I threw myself backwards to dodge them, but the splinters of my bones followed just as I’d warned they would, as though they sought to return where they belonged, cutting cleanly through me. Turning around, he lifted one of the skulls, eerie light glowing in the empty sockets. The ground rumbled, shifting as a gigantic skeleton began climbing out. The dragon…it was the remains of the zombie dragon we had fought just a couple weeks before.
The nightwalker shrieks faded as she shook off the flames, and she plucked Alix off the ground, looking like little more than a toy in her hand, a grin spread across her face as she took flight. Cheshire screamed his name, running after them without a thought. Wings erupted from her back as she tore after them, bringing the whistle Mimi was given to her lips. A burst of magic flooded the arena and the undead stiffened, even the nightwalker reduced to only hovering above the arena.
Cheshire flew after her, Lóin just behind them in his dragon form, blade and claws carving into her while Mimi and Selene focused on the skeletal dragon. Mimi’s scythes sliced easily through its bones, ribs and great wings falling like leaves from a tree. Selene ran up its spine and severed its head with a solid kick to the base of its neck, the dragon crumbling in a heap.
I felt the skull lord’s dead eyes on me, though he was yet held motionless by the magic of the whistle Mimi received from a child whose resemblance he rather bore. Gritting my teeth, I called another beam of searing light to my palm and Ulkair set him ablaze again with arcane fire. Mimi jumped off the dragon falling to lifeless bones again and brought her scythe down on the skull lord, a smile on his face. What magic controlled him exploded out, leaving only the hilt of a broken sword sticking out of the ground.
A flash of violet caught my eye and I looked up to see Aadya catching Alix, Cheshire and Lóin still on either side of the nightwalker. The ranger pointed at the inky figure and Aadya drew her arm back, throwing him like a lightning bolt at what was once his mother, before she was distorted by misplaced rage and anguish. The sunlight flashed off his blades before he cleaved through her and her form fell as a collapsing pillar of smoke. A ghoulish scream rang out from Alix’s twin as she writhed on the ground, dissipating without the nightwalker’s control.
Cheshire landed a short ways ahead of me, searching the disturbed ground for sign of our missing high priest with her music, Aadya soon setting Alix down beside his daughter to aid her. Alix soon found his trail despite the overturned soil and led us into dungeons below the arena. I supposed they once kept the creatures heretics were to fight here, but all such curiosities fled my mind at the sight of Agorran chained to the wall, signs of torture too apparent across his naked skin. Agorran…why hadn’t I found you last week when we were here? How could I have been so blind as to overlook the strange behaviour of that wretched creature wearing your face after having spent almost every day with you for six months, our interactions not infrequent even after that?
Cheshire ran up to him and smashed the chains with Ragnarok, Alix just behind her to catch the wounded priest before the unforgiving ground could. I rested my hand on his shoulder, pouring positive energy into him, his many wounds slowly healing over. Groaning, he looked up at the ranger, his hand fisting in his shirt as if still doubting that it was truly him. He coughed violently, blood staining his hand, though still a faint smile spread across his weary face.
“I knew you’d come, Alix,” Agorran said as he slowly wrapped his arms around the ranger, his voice tired, hoarse from strain my heart bled to consider. “Was it truly her?”
“No, they were just undead being controlled,” Cheshire answered without hesitation, tears welled in her eyes, though she did her best to blink them back.
Were they really Alix’s family? We…didn’t actually know that they weren’t, that Alix’s mother hadn’t in fact trapped their souls and forced them to become the undead they had fought in life, but right now, that wasn’t what Agorran needed to hear. We didn’t know it wasn’t them either and after what he had suffered down here at their hands, there was no need to break his heart further. Agorran sighed and sagged into Alix’s arms, resting his face on his shoulder, undoubtedly relaxing for the first time since he was taken.
“Go to sleep, Friend,” Alix’s voice called, a gentleness to his tone I rarely heard, reserved, I supposed, for Cheshire when just the two of them spoke.
Agorran’s eyes fluttered shut and Cheshire covered him in a blanket from her bag of holding, Alix adjusting his hold to wrap the fabric around his abused body. Mimi sheepishly stepped forward, holding out the hilt of the broken sword the skull lord left behind. Alix stared sadly at it a moment before taking the hilt, holding it close to his heart.
“”This was the sword I gave my brother before he left and never came back. It really must have been him….but we are all finally free from my mother,” Alix murmured, walking away with Agorran yet safely in his arms.
“Cheshire, I didn’t sense their souls anywhere,” Mimi all but breathed, regarding the bard with wide eyes.
“They could have just been undead or they could have already moved on. We’ll figure it out,” Cheshire sighed heavily, running her hand through her hair as she turned to follow Alix, though she stopped abruptly and turned once more to face Ulkair and I. “Where are Rhapsody and Seren?”
“Oh, I left them with Aintai,” Ulkair mumbled, scratching the back of his head. “She was the only person I could think of off hand that I knew I could trust.”
“Good choice,” Cheshire nodded.
“I think though that Seren was wrestling her to the ground. We might should go check on that.”
I blinked a couple times at Ulkair’s announcement, my lips twitching upwards into a grin, thinking of the merbaby wrestling the normally stoic sorceress and possibly fairing well with Caspian’s spell to augment our strength. Chuckling slightly despite myself, I took Ulkair’s hand, agreeing that we ought go check on them before we found a giant viper wound around Seren. Ulkair took Cheshire’s hand and reality whirled in around us, appearing before the disgruntled sorceress a moment later. She gave us a dirty look, immediately moving to hand Seren back to me, though her eyes lacked the coolness they’d had when we met. She passed Rhapsody to Cheshire with much more care than she had Seren to me, mindful of his fragile form.
I nuzzled Seren’s face and thanked Aintai for watching them, giggling feeling Seren’s tiny hands on my face. Aintai nodded, moving back to something she was enchanting, if I gauged the various components on her table correctly. Cheshire held Rhapsody close, expressing her own gratitude before wandering out, heading straight for Alix’s house, it would seem still vacant after our short absence. I reached again for Ulkair’s hand, trying not to dwell on why they weren’t pressed to find a new resident for our houses.
Following after the bard, we found her curled up on Alix’s bed in a pile of blankets, her typical refuge. Sighing softly, I sat beside her on the bed, pulling her small form and her revertible mountain of blankets into my lap. Ulkair sat next to me, wrapping one of his arms around my waist, the other on Cheshire. Leaning closer to him, I rested my face atop his head, my eyes sliding shut for a moment. For now, we were safe. Agorran was safe, recovering from torment we would likely never know the full extent of for the pain the retelling would bring.
Elysia still stood, though, a dark parody of the glittering city we guarded. Seeing what the vampires had done to his belovèd home nearly crushed him, and now, to see the full extent of what our actions had wrought…I tightened my hold around Ulkair, pressing my lips against his temple, praying our visit would not leave such grievous scars on us this time.