We emerged from the courtyard into another world. The streets were bathed by the mid-morning sunlight. Passersby milled about, unfazed by the terrors that were lurking just below the surface. Right now, we were the most dangerous looking things on the street: blood stained, scorched with acid, and greased with the slick pinkish ooze. Floki's wolf got extra attention as well, it bared its teeth at those who walked too close, sending a few anxious people dancing away.
I envied them. Ignorance. It brought a certain peacefulness, or, perhaps, let you worry about the simple and mundane; those everyday tasks that kept your mind occupied in those moments in between. Right now, my mind couldn't possibly fathom why these people were not running for their lives. I took a deep breath, shaking the thought from me. I turned back and saw Silah paused by the Courtyard entrance, looking demure as she pulled the door shut.
I looked up to the bell tower, it was hard to see against the bright sunlight, but the lanterns were lit in the temple. I nodded slowly.
It would have to do. I thought.
I reached a hand out to Silah and she moved close, moving past my hand and curled around my arm. I looked ahead toward the glittering harbor that lingered a ways down the road. I was reminded of watching her walk off of Beidrick's boat. I held to that memory, rolling the evoked emotions around in my head. Last night everything changed. My heart hurt with the thought.
"I was wrong when I said we had more time. I am sorry." She said, her presence moved onto the stage in my head, appearing in a simple violet dress.
She was her normal human size—which she had rarely worn in this place. Her eyes remained lit with their preternatural yellowish glow as she looked up at me somberly. I moved forward in the darkness and embraced her.
I can release you to do what you need to do. I thought, feeling heartbroken as I thought the words.
She pulled back and looked up at me her face suddenly pinched with sadness and aggravation.
"Do you think that's what's next?" She said sharply, I could hear the emotion in her voice, the volume set off an echo rolling against the edges of my mind.
I blinked. Did I?
"We should go to the Regent and report what happened here." Sig said, interrupting the moment.
Silah remained still, looking up at me in my mind's eye, her expression was a violent tumult of emotions. I tugged at my arm gently, trying to withdraw from Silah's grip to break away from this intensity, but she held fast. I decided to focus on the conversation at hand, doing my best to quiet my mind. And, perhaps, I could reclaim some of the peaceful ignorance I had lost.
Bromm looked to Sig and nodded.
"What about the other temples?" I said, looking to Danin. "Can't your people send them a message?"
"What do you mean my people?" He looked up at me, raising his bearded chin defiantly.
"I, well, nevermind." I felt suddenly sheepish, wondering what he thought I meant.
A few suppressed smiles fluttered from face to face. Bromm cleared his throat.
"Let's go talk to the Regent first and see what we'll need to do from there." Bromm said, furrowing his brow to look serious in an attempt to cover his mirth.
No one made a move to walk. Floki, rolled his eyes, looking annoyed, set the pace. Everyone automatically followed suit.
"If I wasn't here, you'd all just stand around like lost puppies." He muttered to the air as he picked the path.
Rana lingered close, standing separate from the group, then moved to Danin's side and began talking with him. She was shaken like everyone else, but there was more than fear in her eyes; sadness, betrayal. I turned away. It wasn't my place to help or reassure, in fact, I could use some of that myself right now.
Silah, still very present and visible in my head, looked at me relentlessly. I couldn't tell what she was thinking, but it was clear that she wasn't pleased. She held tight to my arm, walking with me as we followed. There was nothing I could say that she couldn't already read from our contact. The imbalance of our connection was very clear in times like this. I grit my teeth, feeling exposed.
She relaxed her grip on my arm, stroking the inside of my bicep. I closed my eyes while moving forward and focused on the sensation. Her form in my head softened from anger—quieting into a reluctant sadness—then faded away, leaving me alone.
It was a long walk up the street in Crow's Nest to get to the Regent's estate, which was nearly at the top of the bluff. I looked over at Mont Brooks as we passed.
"We need to get our clothes." I said aloud, nudging toward Mont Brooks.
Silah nodded, she looked up to me and spread her winsome smile. I caught my breath at the sight of her, I reflected her smile. My own heartbreak softening to where, again, I felt like the luckiest man alive.
The entryway to the Regent's offices were well guarded on the inside with only one standing guard outside. We were ushered into a long receiving hallway that seemed to be very similar to the lobbies I had seen in the Hlofreden city offices. Sig and Danin explained the situation to a representative who sat at a receiving desk. Bromm stood, somewhat aloof, perhaps feeling that his family's influence might taint the engagement? Eventually, the Regent himself took the message and came directly. He looked worried. I wondered if he comprehended the significance of what had happened beyond the obvious implications of a slaughter in one of the holy places in Hlofreden.
The guards eyed the rest of us, especially the wolf, Tenner, whom Floki refused to leave outside as he walked in. What was more interesting was the fact that, with Silah on my arm, the guards only considered me briefly. Apparently, even while I was bespeckled with blood and ichor from just earlier, the fact that a beautiful woman was at my side disarmed them. It brought a slight smile to my face.
If they only knew how much more dangerous I am with you. I thought.
There was a shudder of a giggle that reverberated through our connection. I could feel layers of heaviness sliding off of me with each passing moment with her.
We moved outside after Sig and Danin had finished the conversation. The Regent had taken the responsibilities on himself. He was sending messages on to Dowry and sending a contingent of the guard to inspect the priory.
"I told them that they'd find us at The Sea Witch if there were any questions." Sig said. "Even if they leave us a message there, it shouldn't take long for us to get it."
He continued, "I was thinking, Hakaar, that I would like to introduce you and Silah to my Pop-pop."
I nodded, but then wondered if this was a good idea. Silah bounced excitedly, jostling me around. I withheld my reservations. It took me some time to present her true nature to Duncan, who was, in almost all respects, both my father and my most trusted advisor. I felt anxious, even to the point where it felt like a betrayal.
I sighed, with a grimace.
At least I did get a chance to talk with Duncan before this. I thought.
"Don't be so worried," Silah's sleek form appeared, smiling, now standing at eye level, "This should be fun!"
I'll hold on to my reservations, if you don't mind. I thought.
There was a patronizing pout from the visage, and I held back a chuckle. I felt strange. Just as I was on the edge, thinking everything would change. She came back to me as she was when we first met, alive with wonder—her vibrant natural pulling me from the brink of despair.
"Fine. We can do that." I said aloud, still feeling a lingering shadow of doubt that this was a good idea.
Bromm and Floki headed toward The Sea Witch while Rana and Danin began to wander elsewhere. One thing was assured is that we would all be ready and presentable at Robyn's farewell.
We had been following Sig for some time, moving down the different streets. We were headed back out to the bay. I had never met Sig's "Pop-pop". I wondered how similar all of the Richter men would be if they were stood side by side. Sig and his father held similar discipline's when it came to business, social engagements, getting people to what they wanted them to do. However, the two were quite dissimilar in their approach. Afterall, the things I'd seen Sig do…
I shuddered at the thought.
"Here we are." Sig said, and he pressed through the door into the storefront. A tall, lanky blonde boy manned the counter. The boy looked up in anticipation, but then relaxed slightly as he recognized Sig.
"Where's Atticus?" Sig said abruptly, immediately putting the boy back on edge.
"Upstairs in his room, sir." He said quickly, then put up a hand of warning as Sig began to move that way, "He's got a little, uh, stomach trouble."
Sig nodded. I glanced at Silah with a worried look, but her countenance was unaffected.
He had us stay at the front of the shop as he moved through the back. There was a creak of stairs as he called out for his grandfather. I heard a door open and shut and the stairs creak again as conversation started between Sig and his grandfather. The two of them walked into the lobby of the store. Atticus creakily motioned for us to sit.
We obliged, sitting in the separate seats. Atticus moved to the counter.
"Boy, I need you to," he said, speaking loudly in what he may have thought was barely above a whisper, "Clean up my room."
As the man turned from the counter, the boy's jaw clenched and his eyes shone with disdain as he turned to deal with his newly assigned task.
"To what do I owe this visit," his eyes were slightly sunken in their sockets, he looked physically frail, but there was still a lively spark to him. He unconsciously ran his hand over his out-of-control beard, as he spoke. Sig's eyes shimmered with what he wanted to say.
"Pop-pop, I'd like to introduce you to Hakaar and Silah." Sig said putting the extra emphasis on Silah's name.
"You're a big boy." He sized me up with his words. I gave him a slight smile. I wouldn't want to frighten the poor man to death.
"And, oh my, you're a beauty, dear." A wily smile spread across his face.
He looked to Sig, wide eyed and nodding, giving an unsubtle wink. I felt the beginnings of a scowl pulling at my face with the direction this was going.
"Where did you two meet?" Atticus continued.
"Well," Sig chuckled, "It's a long story."
"Most of these kinds of stories like that are." Atticus was giddy, looking between the two.
Silah, who sat between us glanced at me with some amusement, observing the whitening grip I had on the chair. She reached over and rested her hand on my forearm. My restrained menace calmed slightly as I watched a puzzled expression dance over Atticus' face, which then turned into a frown.
Sig, seemingly ignorant of the exchange, nudged him, "Really look at her."
Atticus watched Sig muttering a spell and nodded, then started to do the same. My skin itched as I watched the two of them subtly wave and speak to the air.
I watched recognition in his eyes. Sig watched him with a smile. There was a moment while Atticus squinted at Silah closely. I was curious at what they saw, but quickly abandoned the thought with disgust.
"That is a fascinating bit of magic. A construct? Is it autonomous? Does it take orders?" He talked to Sig like she wasn't here.
I looked to Silah who seemed perfectly at ease with the conversation and didn't speak up. A gnawing inside of me, watching them talk about her like an object; a thing.
"She's right here. You can talk to her like you would a person." I said, simmering with anger.
"Oh. I don't really know how this works." He said to me then glanced at Sig with some concern. "Can, uh, she talk?"
"Yes," Silah said, "I have my own mind."
"Ah, yes." Atticus clapped, fascinated, "Why were you created?"
I grit my teeth at his unwillingness to see her as a person.
"I am a weapon, made as a defense for this plane. I help protect it from those who would destroy it." Silah's tone was all business except for her hand running along my arm soothingly as she spoke.
"How were you created?"
"It was a very long time ago." She said evenly, but her soothing gesture on my arm trembled briefly with whatever she was feeling, "I don't have a clear recollection."
Did you just lie? I thought.
Silah did not respond.
"Fascinating!" His eyes rolled around, looking distantly around the shop, clearly deep in thought. "I will see if I can find any references in my books. Silah you say?"
Silah smiled and nodded at that, she seemed genuinely interested in what Atticus would find.
"Now, my boy, this was a surprise, but I'm sure this is not all you came to visit me about." He patted Sig on the leg.
Sig grimaced and laid out the events from just earlier in the day. Atticus took note of the condition of my armor as Sig retold the story. His eyes were wide with the descriptions of the creatures we had thwarted. Atticus scratched at his palms while he listened, looking apprehensively between each of us.
"That must be it, then. Something changed about a week ago. I have felt my abilities increasing. I fear it may be because of these events you spoke of." His voice had a slight tremble to it.
Silah's gaze dropped to him, piercing. Atticus looked down at his hands again, breaking eye contact.
"You draw your power from the Formless Gods?" Her soothing touch went still, her hand gripped my forearm tightly.
"I have my suspicions," Atticus looked to and fro, still avoiding Silah's penetrating glare, "I still don't fully understand the connection. I just know that something has changed."
He looked up to her after some thought, finally meeting her eyes, "This is my home. Regardless of the source of my powers, I have no intention of allowing them to set foot in this plane."
Silah eyed him warily and finally acknowledged what he said with a nod. Her eyes slid to Sig. There was an unspoken question there, too.
Atticus cleared his throat, breaking the silence.
"That portal—the one you told me about in that abandoned mine shaft—this is where they came from?" He asked, trying to move on from the tension that had built up.
"Will you be returning soon?"
"I expect sometime in the next week. You could come with us!" Sig said, a smile pulling at his lips.
"Oh," He shook his head, brow furrowed and looking to the floor, "I would just be a burden."
"I'm sure we could accommodate." I said, wondering exactly why I was offering to help.
"Come on! It would be an adventure!" Sig put an arm around his grandfather and rocked him a little.
A grin spread across my face. Even with these revelations, I saw the same excitement that Sig had captured with his father just earlier in Dowry. While Sig had his own ways, many that I didn't agree with, his heart, quite often, was in the right place. That well meaning nature reflected on Atticus as the man who raised him. I was torn by the thought, I glanced toward Silah who was looking at me. Her hand was still tight around my forearm and her expression was unreadable, but the fire in her eyes was unmistakable. Curiously, she remained silent on both fronts.
"Atticus," I said, clearing my throat, "If you could keep this—her nature—to yourself for now?"
He nodded, understanding the concern.
"I am just as worried as you, I assure you." He said, looking me in the eyes.
"Soon, Pop-pop, I'll let you know when we're ready to go down to the portal." Sig said, standing up.
We stepped out of the shop and I felt a wave of relief. Atticus had brought us to the door and we said our goodbyes. Silah spoke with him for a moment longer as Sig and I stood close, looking on over the harbor.
"I think I'm going to The Sea Witch." He said absently, seeming unsettled from the conversation.
He was looking at descending sun. It was close to dinner time. My appetite had only just caught up with me, but remained only a minor annoyance. I still felt the distant ache of the battle behind us that tempered those pangs.
"I plan on being there before…" I trailed off, looking down at myself.
Caked bile from the those creatures crackled on my forearms as I flexed my hands and there was residual blood crusted where my numerous wounds had been before Danin's help. Sig frowned at the scabby mess and shook his head with a patronizing tsk-tsk.
"I really need to get cleaned up before I head into Mont Brooks," I said aloud but mostly to myself.
"Why yes, yes you do." He said with a patronizing grin.
"When you're tired of staying clean, floating around at a distance, feel free to join me on the front lines anytime." I gave him a smirk.
"Oh, I think I'm just fine where I'm at." He reflected my expression.
Sig started to turn to leave when Silah stepped up after speaking with Atticus.
"Wait, Sig, we'll join you. The Sea Witch is the only place I'm going to be able to clean up anyway." I said, beckoning Silah and falling in step with Sig.
As we walked, the briny winds from the small harbor pushed up against the land for the last few times this evening before the seaward winds took hold. From the feeling in the air, it was going to be warm until the wee hours. There was a lingering thought about the farewell. Robyn was a mystery and had said far too many cryptic things about what might happen. I shook the thought off. This was another thing that wasn't my concern. In my mind, the issue was resolved when she demanded I leave her problems to her. I grimaced at the thought.
Sig walked into The Sea Witch while I moved down the alleyway.
"I don't want to get caught up in there just yet." I said back to Silah who had just about pushed through the door behind Sig. She had an annoyed look on her face as she caught up.
"You could have told me you weren't going in." She said, exasperated.
"Haven't you been poking around in there all day." I smiled to myself.
"I thought you could use some space." She said, sounding almost timid.
I shrugged at her and moved up to the well. I drew the first bucket and put it to the side. I rifled through the outbuilding and found a set of scrubbing brushes. I looked at them with disdain as I walked back over toward the edge of the well.
"This'll have to do." I said to myself.
Silah moved close.
"Need any help?" She said, a sly grin spreading across her face, showing her near luminescent teeth.
The bent breastplate was now etched with holes from the acidic spray. It was hard to see it in such bad shape, it was an active memory finally coming to rest, just like the campaigner blade strapped to my back. It was becoming apparent that I would need a replacement soon. I looked at it, running my fingers over the etched Grasslions sigil, then placed it on the ground with some reverence.
"Are you going to take off that ratty shirt?" She said with some disgust.
I glared at her and she threw the glare right back at me.
"Seriously? Put on a clean one, at least." She said tossing her hands up.
"I want Mr. Denton to know exactly what he's getting into. He said he had made an outfit that wore well. I guess we'll see if he's up for the challenge."
I dumped the bucket of water over my head and set to scrubbing.
(Get to know Akeron.)