By EM Malachi
The flames consumed the parchment, the blackened edges echoing the paladin’s mood. After five failed attempts to write down his thoughts, Dupre had given up and finished packing his kit.
The soldier had done his duty. The ship he was responsible for had returned to port with all hands. Despite his own injuries and fatigue, Dupre had been part of the detail to move the critically wounded to the city’s healer. He had made sure he was not needed elsewhere. Vesper was safe. The threat of the Eventide had passed.
Dupre was on his way out of his room at the inn, when he bumped into the last person he wanted to see. Geoffrey gave his friend a surprised look but then held up a roll of bandages and a bottle.
“I’d heard you’d returned to your room. I was worried you might have an injury you’d refused to let the healer see to.”
Adjusting his pack, Dupre frowned. “I was about to head out.”
“Leaving town after a battle without rest or even a celebratory toast isn’t like you. We won, didn’t we?”
“We did the job and came back.”
“What’s wrong? What did you see out there?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. You can read my official report.”
“We all know things are left out of those. As your friend, I want to know what really happened.”
Dupre sighed and put down his pack. Taking a seat, he accepted the bottle from Geoffrey and took a swig. “Where to begin? The sea was dark with Jack’s ships. It was hard to tell where the decks and bodies began, and the whole bloody fleet screamed. Some of the younger sailors seemed ready to flee, but there was nowhere to go. I let them borrow the flask of liquid courage I keep for just such times.”
“I know such magic is terrible, but you must have seen worse during the fall of Trinsic. I remember how you rallied people even as we abandoned the city.”
“Necromancers make my skin crawl, but I stayed focused on the job. We did our best to fight off the bloated swimmers that tried to board, but we knew we needed to scuttle the ships. We were in position for a broadside against the flagship when I saw the face of Shamino. Our friend’s head, propped up on the prow like a trophy!”
Geoffrey grimaced but let him continue.
“Shamino’s head didn’t scream like the others. It spoke in a rasping voice. It said my name! It knew things only the ranger would have known. When our cannon blast knocked the head into the water and the head was sinking beneath the waves, it gave a final ill omen: ‘Do not be sad, not with a thread so short.’”
“It was a necromancer’s trick, to upset and confuse.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. These are uncertain times for the entire world, but I can’t be ruled by doubt. I need to know. Even if my life is near its end, I must know where I am needed.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“There was a seeress I met years ago, Penumbra. The Daughter of the Eclipse might have answers, so I will find her.”
“I don’t suppose the lone paladin needs allies on his quest?”
When Dupre shook his head and stood up, Geoffrey said, “Safe travels to you then.”
The druid caught her friend before the mage fell into a thorn bush. Jaana knew these forests well and had chosen suitable boots for the hike. Mariah wore shoes popular on the streets of Moonglow, and the mage seemed more distracted than usual. The short journey had taken twice as long as planned.
The wisp hung in the air like a sad rain cloud. The normally brilliant light was a dull grey, and the other parts of Xorinia nearby seemed to avoid the defective wisp. “What’s wrong with it?” Jaana asked.
Mariah caught her breath and studied the creature. “If I had to guess, it’s been separated from the whole for too long. Even with magic, some injuries cannot be repaired.”
“But I got help to deactivate one of the generators affecting them. The rest of the wisps seem fine.”
“And some wisps have attacked people without provocation. There may be subtle differences between Xorinian wisps that we can’t see.”
“Can you do anything to help this one? It looks like it’s dying.”
“I could try to mend the connection to the larger whole, but it will be difficult. I’ll need an hour just to prepare.”
“Are you sure you want to attempt something so involved? You look tired.”
Mariah had already removed her spellbook from her bag. “We have to do something.”
While Mariah set up for the ritual, Jaana consulted with the other wisps in the area. They were very upset about something called “sharp ethereal waves.” Had the Xorinite wisps been able to leave Sosaria, there would have been a mass flight back to their home dimension.
When Mariah had finished drawing an ornate ritual circle around the wisp, the mage started chanting, “Ort Lor In Grav Vas Wis.” She began to glow, and a pattern of sparkles appeared around the wisp. The creature’s own inner light began to intensify and blink in tandem with the sparkles.
Then the wind shifted, and everything stopped. The energy in the air exploded, throwing Mariah across the clearing. Every wisp gave a scream, like glass breaking. Jaana ran over to help her friend. “Are you all right?”
Mariah sat up, visibly shaken. “No. My magic, my connection to mana, is gone.” She looked over at the wisp. It shuddered slightly, and its lights went out completely.