Star Dreamer

Chapter XLVIII: Under the Eyes of Hope

[Laurelyn]

Laurelyn squeezed Thomis’s fingers once, and stepped forward to hand the Captain the sad, sodden bundle that had been Fiend. She lovingly placed the blanket-wrapped corpse in the Captain’s arms. Venlesser looked down on the blanket and then slowly began to peel the material away. At first a nose snuffled into view, and a muffled whine could be heard as the Captain pulled back the rest of the blanket – to reveal a living, and dry, Fiend.

No eldritch glow shown in the Captain’s eyes as he looked up at the group – only living blue, and he said, “Does this offer proof of my powers, Jester?” He stroked the wiggling puppy and looked at each who stood before him. “You each have your boon.”

[Enris]

He smiled in spite of himself! “Thank you, Captain Venlesser” he said, and had never been more sincere. Not just for the boon, but for the situation that had helped him accomplish needed changes within himself. “But, Captain – is there nothing we can do for you, other than the entertainments? Is there no offering we can make to the Gods that would aid you?”

[Venlesser]

At first it seemed that Venlesser had not heard Enris’s question – for the Captain seemed fascinated with the wiggling, snuffling pup in his arms. Yet a tightening of the jaw – a tension of the Captain’s body – said he had heard, and it almost seemed if he feared that question. He gently placed Fiend down on the deck.

[Laurelyn]

Laurelyn stopped half turn – she had moved to throw her arms around Thomis. Her expression was puzzled – for though Venlesser’s words were the best of news she couldn’t shake the continued, heavy, sense of waiting. But waiting for what she wasn’t sure.

[Jacques]

“Proof, aye,” returned the Jester evely. “Of something. I’ve seen many a village priest do the same.” He puffed a thick smoke ring out of the pipe.

“You asked for faith, Captain. I have no faith in the shadow. And none in those who cloak themselves in it, be it through choice or ill luck.”

I have, he thought, faith in nothing. Not even myself.

Venlesser could not seriously expect him to have faith in anything else. Fiend looked around uncertainly, and then with a somewhat uncertain yip bounded over to Jacques and sat up against the jester’s feet. He looked up at Jacques’ face and then back over at Venlesser.

With a final muttering growl of discontent, the pup lay down, head on paws.

[Venlesser]

Venlesser watched the pup go to the jester – then met Jacques’s skeptical gaze. “Faith is but a shadow, Jester,” he said, “And those village priests that you mention are better men than we – for they know that that shadow is a reality.”

[Jacques]

The jester snorted and puffed another large smoke ring into the air. It drifted waveringly over to the edge of where the mist surrounded them, and then seemed to merge with the greyness. “Faith, Captain, is for them that have souls. It requires a soul to have that much belief in something outside yourself – a soul is that belief outside yourself.”

He shrugged, and the bells jingled faintly.

“You and I Captain, we have no souls. So we can’t have faith. If you had any you wouldn’t be talking like you do, or doing what you do. If I had any, I wouldn’t damn well be here, now would I?”

Fiend shuffled against his feet, and Jacques glanced down briefly.

“I’m just a simple jester. I don’t know about shadows being real, Captain. But I know reality has shadows. The difference being that just occasionally we get the chance to impart a little light. I sold my soul for the chance to bring some light into the gods-forsaken lives of others, Captain. To give them a choice where I had none. All I got in the bargain was this damn motley and no damned choices at all.”

He puffed a final smoke ring into the air, and tapped out the remains of the tobacco onto the ship’s deck. “I sure as hell hope you got a better deal than I did.”

[Ulric]

“Too simple…” muttered Ulric with a frown. He did not like the jester’s philosophy at all. Everyone had choices, some people simply found it easier of think they had none than to admit that their current state was of their own choosing.

For himself, the boon he had been granted had not brought the joy or elation that he had hoped for, but a grim resolve to find out who had betrayed him so… and a leaden feeling in his gut that his beloved Alvende had suffered a terrible fate in his absence. His course was set on home, and perhaps on murder… he would make that choice when he got there. “We all cast our own shadow, Jacques, but I think you stand too much in yours.”

He barely shrugged, a minor gesture to indicate that he meant no offense.

[Thomis]

The only pleasure any of them derived from the Captain’s announcement that the boons had been granted came from the sight of Fiend, tongue lolling, at the jester’s feet. And even that seemed not to cheer at least one of their group; Rudolpho stared at the pup with a slightly sick, and greatly self-doubting, look on his face. Thomis could almost read the question in the boy’s mind – if the Captain could so easily grant what Jacques had asked, then shouldn’t Rudolpho have begged what he so desperately wanted, the return of his dead parents? Not even a quick hug from Maeve, who had seen that expression of uncertainty, was enough to make him smile.

“This is not all of it,” Thomis murmured to Laurelyn, and slid one arm around her waist. To one side, Fionn already had returned Rue to her basket, and tucked the blankets around protesting feet and hands. But when the highlander stood again, lifting the carrier, even he looked around as if unsure whether they were simply free to leave.

[Laurelyn]

“No, it’s not,” Laurelyn said, leaning into Thomis’s shoulder, and waiting.

[Venlesser]

The Captain’s attention remained centered on Jacques, and with a mild tone of self-mockery said, “Ah Jester, you still haven’t riddled out my curse or what I would want.” He shook his head and said, “My soul is my own – so any lack of faith I’ve suffered is on my own head. And as for lighting the shadows,” Venlesser looked towards Laurelyn and said, “Please, Balladeer, could you tell a bit of my legend … particularly the part about what happened after I angered the gods? I’m sure you will tell it far better than I.”

[Laurelyn]

For a moment Laurelyn wondered if the Captain was mocking her, but she could only hear tiredness in his voice. She tilted her head in agreement and began, “For his arrogance the Gods lay down a curse upon the Captain’s head – that he and all aboard The Star Dreamer were doomed to sail the seas forever, with only the drowned for company. But the Captain begged that his crew not be made to pay the price of his foolishness – that they be allowed to go free. And for this act of humility the Gods not only granted his request, but gave him the power to grant a boon to whomever pleased him with a night’s entertainment – thus ensuring he wasn’t always alone.”

There were questions in her own blue eyes when she finished.

[Venlesser]

“Thank you,” Venlesser said with a nod in Laurelyn’s direction, “You do tell it much better than I would.” He looked back at Jacques and said, “You do have some of it right – we do what we can to bring light to the shadows. However, I will quibble on a point – you say you are soulless, but I doubt a husk of a man could ask the boon that you did – and I have seen more than my share of hollow men and women. The Gods use the shadows, and the light too, for their own purposes. Perhaps there are veils you have not yet parted.” His laugh was hollow of humor and he said, “And it does indeed take faith to part that veil.”

Venlesser studied each of them, his gaze sharp enough to peer down into their souls, or etch forever their faces on his memory. At last his attention traveled to Enris, and he said, “A few moments ago, Mage, you asked if there was anything you could do for me.” Something like anguish flickered in the Captain’s blue eyes, and the silence could have easily spanned the stretch of centuries. And was shattered when he said, “The boons are yours – no matter what choice you make at this moment. But are there any here – it would take but just one – who would sail with me? Not till eternity’s end, but travel to Dia’s Cauldron? For if there is one who will face that trial with me then there stands a chance that I and The Star Dreamer will be free.” There was pain in his voice as he said, “But know that if I fail – then to sail eternity is again our fate….”

[Enris]

He knew that few, if any, would take such a risk. And unless he missed his guess, the Captain had made the implied request before, and seen the weak-willed members of the undisciplined masses retreat in fear. But those flacid people had not enjoyed the advantage of Adelu’s wisdom, nor had they the strength of a soldier of the CRS. His companions had their admirable qualities, but he had his doubts that any would step forward in this matter.

Enris smiled, a fierce pride in his eye, and replied “Captain, you have promised your aid in helping me to best serve Seldez, and as such have acted as a true comrade in the great patriotic war. I will gladly travel with you to this Cauldron you speak of. We will surely win the battle, and secure your freedom – but, should we fail, I can still serve my leader by repeating his message forever. Eternity is hardly long enough!”

He laughed heartily and continued “But we will not fail. And perhaps after the victory, we can share a toast to those we’ve known, and those we’ve yet to meet.”

[Laurelyn]

Laurelyn pressed Thomis’s hand to her chest and whispered, “I think you married a mad wife….”

Even before Enris had spoken she had felt the pull of the Captain’s request, though she didn’t know if it was simply the obsession to know the end of the legend, or if there was still a bond between her and The Star Dreamer. Though she knew she could put a coin or two on the desire not to let Enris prove that only the CRS had the guts; not that she disliked the mage – for all his fanaticism he had fine qualities, but she knew stubborn pride played a part in her decision.

“I will also see you to the end of your journey,” she said.

[Thomis]

Thomis could have sworn he heard the words coming before she spoke them. And he was not at all surprised, nor did he hesitate to add his own nod.

[Ulric]

Ulric sadly shook his head. “When I came to Laurelyn’s land I was betrayed… those men have returned home, and my wife…” He shook his head again, as if unable to think of the possibilities. “I cannot go with you without first knowing that my wife is safe.”

[Jacques]

Jacques shrugged, and this once – this only once – the bells remained silent.

If Venlesser thought he hadn’t sold his soul then Jacques was not about to disabuse him of the notion. Though it seemed to the jester that the Captain no more had claim to his own soul than Jacques himself. Surely the gods had all but taken it when they had placed him on this cursed ship.

“Degrees of shadow, captain,” he said quietly to no one in particular. Black and white were things that never existed – they were merely shades of grey. “And,” he continued a little louder so they could hear, “as I said. No choices, captain.” The black knife was back in his hand, though Fiend edged imperceptibly away from him, and it, as it appeared. “No choices. I will help.”

Fiend gave a cheerful yip that turned into a worried whine at the end, making Jacques’ hair stand on end.

No choices at all.

[Maeve/Rudolpho/Fionn]

“I’ll go with you then, too,” Rudolpho added after a moment. By now, he had stepped away from Maeve, as if no longer willing to be treated as a child in need of comfort. When he looked up at her, only the faintest hint of his fear, that he had wasted the only chance he had, remained. “You should probably go back,” he started, in a nearly firm voice.

“Probably,” Maeve agreed almost merrily. “But ye willna rid yerself o’ me so easily.” One hand lifted as if she wanted to pull him close again, but then fell again to her side. “We’ll finish it out together.”

Focused on Rudolpho, she did not see the flicker of exasperation that crossed Fionn’s face. Without another word, the highlander set Rue’s basket back on the deck. When he straightened, he looked as if nothing short of the gods themselves would have moved him off the Star Dreamer.

[Tirlina]

Tirlina watched the exchange between Maeve and Rudolpho with indifference, knowing that Maeve’s fate now held no bearing on her child’s. But Fionn’s reaction was another matter, for he was clearly now Rue’s only true guardian, and his apparent decision to remain near Maeve surprised the sprite, and made her puff out a tiny sigh of annoyance. The foolish man was going to continue to risk Rue, when he had just freed her from one curse?

Tirlina was certainly not freed from her obligation to protect Rue, and so if Fionn stayed, so must she. Irritated, and more than a bit homesick for the cool green of her home, Tirlina dropped down to the deck beside the basket, and sat next to it, leaning back to rest her head against the side and stare up into the grey fog, her tiny face set in a wistful longing.

[Enris]

He nodded. Of course, Laurelyn had volunteered. And naturally she would not have chosen a weakling as a husband, so it was no surprise that Thomis would go as well. Enris didn’t understand Jacques, but his opinion of the jester improved. “Excellent, Laurelyn! Nothing can defeat us now!” After a brief pause, he continued “Captain Venlesser – please understand that I do not mean to offend – but would it be possible to fly the banner of the CRS on your vessel. Not as your main flag, of course – but on one of the lesser masts, perhaps?”

[Venlesser]

Sorrow outweighed hope in the Captain’s eyes, but his voice held the strength of resolve when he said, “When we join this battle, which is perhaps the greatest battle any can fight, we will enter it with humility.” He shook his head and added quietly, “We will sport no flags in that hour.”

Venlesser looked around at the shadows – seeking the glimmer of the sprite’s wings. But when he didn’t see her he said, “Good Lady, may I make a request of you?”

[Tirlina]

The sprite leaned forward to peek around the edge of the basket, and saw that Venlesser had indeed been addressing her, and his eyes sought her out among the gloom. She stood and flicked her wings, rising to alight on the rim of the basket near Rue’s feet, where she would be more visible. “What would you request, Captain?” she asked, the musical quality of her voice seeming out of place in the dreary grey fog.

[Venlesser]

The Captain hunkered down near the basket and said, “Good Lady of the Fey, I ask that ye take both babe and pup, innocents both, and see them to safety. No curses weigh upon them and they have not gained voices with which to speak their choices. If you would do that, you would have my deepest gratitude, though whether that is worth much or little I leave it for you to decide.”

“Now for you, Far-Sailing Warrior….,” Venlesser said as he stood. He turned towards Ulric and continued, “I could show you the fate of your bride, but I prefer that one of this brave group make it to safety. So go, with my blessing – May find your kin safe and your home whole.”

[Enris]

A great battle? He saw now why the captain preferred to have no flags. The enemy must be surprised… better to make a show of humility, so as to get closer – and then – to strike at the heart of the opposition, suddenly and without mercy. Seek victory, but at the lowest cost. Conceal your strength until you can destroy your foe utterly, then crush all opposition. Enris simply nodded at the Captain’s decision, but it seemed a wise one. “Captain, I can understand the wisdom of approaching the enemy in a humble manner – but, unless it is necessary to maintain secrecy about our foe – could you tell us something of what we will face? Preparation seems advisable.”

Enris did not try to conceal a certain eagerness – it was good to go to a war again. It had been too long since he had been able to use his battle magic!

[Venlesser]

The Captain’s expression was distant – as if already traveling, via memory, to Dias’ Cauldron – when he turned to look at Enris. “Prepare…?” Venlesser said, “The only words of advice I have to give is to prepare for death and then pray for life.”

[Laurelyn]

Since speaking her decision, and feeling the weight of Thomis’s, Laurelyn had been trying to remember if she had ever heard any legends of Dias’ Cauldron. No tales sprung to mind, but she thought she recognized something about the name’s source – it seemed to be from an ancient coastal dialect – a curiosity only vaguely remembered by scholars and mountain bards.

A tidbit of memory surfaced and she whispered to Thomis, “I think that “Dias’ translates to “Gods.’” But she could find no comfort in knowing that they were to sail to “the Gods’ Cauldron.”

[Tirlina]

The sprite stared silently at Rue for a long moment after Venlesser turned away, her hands resting on her hips as she contemplated the Captain’s request. Finally, she looked up at Fionn, towering over her and the basket. “Protecting her is not in question,” she said, tilting her head slightly. “But what am I to do with her if you do not return, highlander?” If the question was a trick, or a test, she gave no indication as she stared up at the Fionn, her face a glow of innocence.

[Fionn]

After a moment, the highlander squatted by the basket, one hand catching Rue’s grasping fingers in his own. “You will see her home,” he answered simply, in highland. And perhaps only the sprite could hear the longing in his own voice. “And take her before Luatha. The Saining will be yours to choose.” It was not what he wanted, to have the babe raised among the fae … but of the choices available, Luatha or Tirlina, he would trust the sprite before the Fhaolain clan mother.

[Tirlina]

Tirlina pursed her lips thoughtfully, watching Fionn play with Rue’s tiny hand. She hadn’t expected that answer – that Fionn would so easily give Rue to her, without even a thought of any of his own people who might be willing to take in an orphaned baby. But she shrugged, and squatted down on the Rim, and glanced furtively at Maeve for a brief moment before turning back to Fionn. “I think perhaps I will stay with you, to know your fate, so that at least she can be told when she’s old enough of your honor in this quest.”

That Tirlina would keep the baby safe and would not let Fionn’s fate befall her, as well, was understood, and unspoken. But as anxious as the sprite was to return home, she was not so anxious to separate her small charge from the only person who had ever loved her. At least, not any sooner than was necessary.

[Venlesser/Eric]

“And will you allow the Lady to take the pup into her safekeeping, Jester?” Venlesser asked as he stood.

“I’ll also be staying….,” Eric Dunn said, though his attention seemed more on the shadow-filled mist than on the Captain. When Venlesser turned towards him Dunn added, “I will not let kin sail on alone – not after she aided me as best she could.”

[Laurelyn]

The storyteller bit back a retort – to tell him not to risk everything he had gained on her account – but who was she to judge?

[Jacques]

Jacques looked at the others. Obviously they were all mad. There was no other reason why they’d do something so insane as to have reached this far and then push into some likely fatal, and certainly extremely dangerous, situation now that they had their boons.

Or, at least, had been told they would have them. There was, he considered, a subtle but rather distinct difference in that.

“Fiend?” Jacques looked at the Captain in surprise. “That animal isn’t mine to make decisions on either way, Captain.” Fiend sat on the deck looking up at the others happily, tail thumping on the wooden boards. “As I recall, I gave him to Mrs. Parch there. I’ll make no choices for any one else, least of all him.” The pup in question gave a short yip, and then looked at Jacques curiously.

“Besides, up until he reached this cursed boat of yours, he’d always managed to look after himself quite happily.”

Watch him, said a voice in the back of Jacques’ mind. Where his conscience might have been had the booze not withered it away. Watch him, for he is your chance. Your only chance.

Jacques shook his head. Damn boat was making him nearly as insane as the rest of them.

[Maeve/Rudolpho]

Rudolpho might have said something to Maeve about the whole business with Rue – maybe a suggestion that Aleia should take the baby back to the Calhouns? But the older girl seemed so oblivious to the whole problem that he didn’t even know where to begin such a conversation. Besides, something told him that one way or another, Aleia would see the baby free, regardless of what happened to the rest of them. “So what do we do next?” he asked uncertainly. Ulric apparently would be returning to The Brenna’s Rose and maybe take Brenna, wherever she was, with him, but the boy couldn’t figure out where they went from that point.

[Keir]

Keir shuffled impatiently behind the Big Folk, it had gone unspoken but the tension of their inevitable parting of the ways once their boons were granted seemed to be shifting to yet another quest – one more nebulous and therefore, more dangerous and mad than their first. He wondered how much the reluctance to change played in the Big Folk’s decisions. Most disturbing, other than the Mistress’s insistance on going for he had felt his vow of protection ended with her marriage, at least in principle if not in fact, was Eric’s declaration. If he was indeed to find the location of his kin how was he to begin if the Brenna’s captain would not depart? Stomping to the fore he thumped his staff thrice on the deck planking to get the Captain’s attention. “Though it appears my immediate future has been determined for me,” he huffed casting a glare at Eric, “I would know if, how and when our boons are to be granted before decided whether to aid you.”

[Venlesser]

Venlesser studied Keir for a moment – then looked up at Ulric, and said, “Proud Warrior, would you aid me in a demonstration? One that will see you on your road home and answer part of Master Keir’s question.” While he waited for the warrior to come forward the Captain spoke a few soft words, and before them the fog coalesced into round, mirror-like surface; within the bounds of the wavering edges shown a handsome woman, dressed in a style similiar to Ulric’s, and she seemed to heatedly arguing with an older man, but in their normal tongue.

[Ulric]

Ulric would have smiled at the sight of Alvende, but her face and her words indicated that she was less than happy. The man whom she spoke to, Bervaldt, was a respected nobleman who lived near to Ulric’s estate, and he crossed his arms and scowled at her as she finished her last statement. “I do not care, ” Bervaldt replied gruffly in their native tongue, “Ulric is dead, and our laws state that you cannot hold his land after his death for more than two months! Either remarry or return to your family’s estate!”

Alvende glared up at the man, her fists balled up and her gentle jawline clenched in fury. “What proof have you of…”

The image dissolved, Alvende and Bervaldt’s conversation consumed by the ether.

Ulric unclenched his own fists and looked around at the rest of the travellers on the deck of The Star Dreamer. “All is not well,” he said, looking from face to face. He hadn’t expected it, but he would miss some of these faces. “Laurelyn, Thomis, everyone…” he cast a slightly longer look toward Maeve, remembering how horribly alone she had seemed when he first met her, “I wish you all well. I hope we meet again, in happy times.”

[Venlesser/Laurelyn]

“And we will miss you,” Laurelyn said, “Fair winds!” After Ulric had bid his compatriots farewell, and been wished well, Venlesser lifted his hand and said, “Successfull journey.”

The “mirror” began to elongate – forming a silver-walled tunnel, and at the far end seemed to be the green of fields; from down the tunnel came the faint smell of sunlight and grass. “Any who wish to go can still do so,” Venlesser said, “The tunnel will take you each to what you desired as a boon.”

The spell of The Star Dreamer, that strange binding, still held firm to her soul and Laurelyn shook her head. She gripped Thomis’s hand. And sent to Tirlina, ::Fair Lady, will you care for Fiend too – for Jacques’ sake?” Despite all the jester had said Laurelyn easily remembered how he had cared for the pup when Fiend had been pierced by an arrow.

[Tirlina]

Tirlina looked up at the silent request, then shot Jacques a fiercely disapproving frown before finally nodding at Laurelyn. She had already intended to protect Fiend, as well, as Venlesser had asked, but she would not do it for the abrasive jester who had so callously told her to simply throw the drowned pup back overboard. The man did not deserve Fiend’s affection and loyalty, and she frowned at the puppy where he lay at Jacques’ feet. No, she would protect Fiend for Fiend’s sake, not for the ornery man’s.

[Venlesser]

The Captain’s expression was neutral as he watched Ulric proceed down the silvered-tunnel; the tall warrior growing smaller as the distance grew between he and The Star Dreamer. Though to Ulric it would seem he only walked a moment.

[Keir]

The Hortus was surprised at how Ulric’s departure tore at him, “Fare thee well rabbit-slayer” he quietly spoke as Venlesser’s magic gate closed. At a glance he gathered that he was not alone in being so affected. Would each departure be so, so pained? he thought. What of his own leaving? Was it best to get it over with quickly or would it build until the last parted, in tears perhaps? His hand went to the rolled sketch in his vest pocket, drawn by Daron – another whose untimely departure weighed on his heart. Taking a deep breath and drawing himself up to his full height he faced the Captain. “I have searched long, a few days more or less will make little difference. I will accompany Mistress Laurelyn and Master Thomas.”

[Venlesser]

The Captain studied each face and seeing only resolution in their expressions he strode between them. “Come,” he ordered the group.

The fog shifted back to reveal a stairway and he led the way to the ship’s wheel. The wheel looking like it had been carved from ebony. Slowly Venlesser wrapped his fingers around the wood. He seemed to have forgotten those who had gathered with him.

Suddenly there was a loud <crack> as the sails filled with wind and The Star Dreamer became a like racehorse taking to the bit, yearning towards the end of the course. Cold winds struck at them but the fog remained uneffected, and it seemed impossible that the Captain knew what he steered them towards.

But he knew…

And just as suddenly as the wind rose it stopped, and the fog at the brow of the ship seeped back; revealing no pleasant oceanscape, but the greenish-lit, fanged maw of a whirlpool whose edges were wrapped in an equally swirling mass of silver fog and blackness.

“The Dias’ Cauldron,” Venlesser said; his voice sharp in the silence. His gaze did not waver from that malevolent whirlpool, though it had haunted his dreams, making him experience the eternity of agony again and again, for either a year or a millenia. He did not know remember how long ago that voyage had been. Here was the eternal death he had warned them off; his prayers torn between them fleeing to their boons (so he would not be haunted for eternity by their presence) and their staying. In all the time of his curse he had only traveled here once – and lost, and the courageous woman who had stood at his side was now a shadow wraith amongst thousands. So he gone back to punishing those who had come to his ship with dreams of greed or vengeance, and sent on those who had asked boons for the greater good.

And in mad moments kept some just because they had come.

But this group – these breakers of curses (an auspicious fact unto itself) who came with their doubts and their pain, and asked for their boons out of love or duty – how could he risk losing his chance? How could he risk condemning them? And was he as soulless as the Jester claimed? Was that why he had failed before? If so, then they were all doomed and the Gods were crueler than any would believe.

His grip on the wheel tightened till it looked like the skin over his knuckles would split and he urged The Star Dreamer forward.

[Laurelyn]

Laurelyn bit her tongue and the tail end of a scream as the ship pitched forward into the swirling maw – whose fangs covered the length of long tentacles. Those fangs that ripped at wood and grasped at flesh.

Around came the cacophony of snapping and cracking wood, and the deafening roar of water. And Laurelyn saw a tentacle slash across Venlesser’s leg, taking flesh away and revealing bone. But the Captain seemed to take no notice – he stood like he had been bound to the wheel. And she could tell he fought to steer a steady course through the nightmare.

Movement near Thomis’s shoulder caught her attention and she pulled her dagger, lunging at the monstrosity that sought to gouge her husband. And leaving her unaware of the teeth that reached for her, that rent her from shoulder to hip, hooking into her flesh and dragging her away.

Laurelyn’s last thought was of Thomis and the regret she felt.

[Thomis]

The moment passed as slow as eternity, with her blood arcing through the air to spray itself across him. And in that moment, Thomis thought he saw, for the first time, the bright halo of colors about his wife, and heard the singing of the threads humming through them both.

This is the fire, he thought blankly, feeling as he never had what Lanaera, or Drywen, or Paul must feel as the weave rushed through them and wrapped itself around bone and muscle and blood. To lose that – to lose her -

[Enris]

At last, they faced battle! How could they fail? Comrade Laurelyn had been attacked, and he raised his staff and uttered the first spell – a bolt of blue-black lightning lashed out toward the tentacle, causing it to explode in flame with the acrid odor of burning flesh. With the enemy everywhere, he recalled the courage of the CRS during the battle of Chatterton.

As other tentacles came towards him, he spoke another, stronger spell. Around him, countless tiny strings of brilliant green fire orbited, and wherever a tentacle came, the strings shot out and left gaping, empty holes in the monstrous limb, letting the fluids that served for blood flow freely.

His eyes brilliant with the light of fanaticism, Enris prepared a third spell. Victory or death! For honor, and Adelu!

[Laurelyn]

Laurelyn’s body lay amongst the gore and mangled remains of the tentacle, and if it wasn’t for her blood oozing from beneath her she would have looked like she slept; with auburn hair haloing her still face. The red of her blood mingled with the greyish-blue fluids of the beast, and turned the pools of ichor black.

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