A Glimpse in Time
Consciousness pulled gently but relentlessly at her. She rose slowly through striated layers of sleep and wakefulness until she finally surfaced into being fully awake. Eyelids as heavy as lead were loathe to open, but Adelessa fought against them until they did. A familiar face hovered over her, but her bleary vision couldn't make out the details. She knew, though, that the person was someone who was looking out for her. "Pent?" Her voice sounded like a stranger's, all creaky and breathy.
"No – it's Erk." Ah. His face came into focus after she recognized his voice. It was quiet, like the room and, she'd guess, the hallway beyond it. The light was low; a lamp was turned down to a barely-lit tongue of flame and only the slightest hint of sun crept in through the window. It meant that it was either early morning or late evening. With how quiet it was, Adelessa guess that it was the former: the others would be practicing and sparring and making all kinds of noise if it was after dinner. She resting on something lumpy; it felt like a mattress of some sort. Perhaps clothing is padding it? she wondered.
"I dreamed that I died."
"You did die," the mage told her.
"Oh." Adelessa took the news with a surprising amount of serenity. Taking a moment to digest that piece of news seemed like a good idea, so she settled more fully into the pillow and stared at the ceiling. Erk busied himself with something else while she thought over it. The events of her death came back to her. The magic seal, the mage, the inky blackness into which she'd drifted…. That scared her more than the actual pain. "I'm sorry."
"Tell that to Serra – she's going to give you an earful when she gets back," Erk warned. "We're lucky that she was there." Adelessa nodded slightly and decided that she felt adventurous enough to try sitting up. He helped prop her up with pillows. While she might not admit it out loud, she was glad for the assistance: without the help, she doubted that her shaky limbs would have managed to keep her up. "Your heart stopped when you were hit with the Thunder spell," he continued. "We think that the lingering magic in your system was negated when we entered the magic seal's area of influence. Serra was able to bring you back."
"Oh, good." She took stock of how she felt. Tired, for one, though in a different way than she had been feeling. It was less fatigue and more an ache in her bones. Dying probably had something to do with that. Beyond that she was hungry and thirsty, but not so badly that she couldn't function. Her mind was fuzzy and slow with sleep. "Could I have some water? And is there any food around?" She tried not to sound too weak.
"I have some water here, but no food. Just a moment." Erk moved across the room, where a pitcher sat next to a plain cup. He poured it for her and offered it when he returned. It might have been room temperature, but it was wet and made a dent in Adelessa's thirst. She wasn't going to complain. They both stared at the door in anticipated horror when Serra's unmistakable voice sounded in the hall. The tactician quickly handed Erk the cup.
The door flew open and Serra stood in the doorway with an armful of cloth; Adelessa recognized it as her over-tunic. "Erk!" she scolded. "You were supposed to tell me when Aydie woke up, you silly boy! How am I supposed to work with help like this? Tsk! It's a wonder that I get any work done!" The cleric bustled over to a spare chair, laid out the green top on it, and shook her finger at Erk. "Didn't anyone ever teach you to follow instruction from those in charge?" The poor mage didn't have the chance to respond; Serra instead whirled and stared down Adelessa. The brunette felt younger than she had in years when the pink-haired woman put her hands on her hips and leaned forward. "And what did you think that you were doing? This is the second time I've had to work on you when you're too silly to take care of yourself! Now really, when did it become a good idea for the girl who can't be healed to wander around where a mage could zap her?"
She had to try to stand up for herself. "I didn't mean for that to happen," Adelessa protested weakly. It didn't nearly match up to the gloriously exasperated look that Serra gave her. Erk made a face of utmost sympathy from over Serra's shoulder while he hid from her wrath. She couldn't blame him for wanting to stay out of the cleric's war path.
"Of course you didn't mean for it to happen," Serra said, her voice showing that she had barely a scrap of patience for Adelessa's explanation. "No one means to be hit with a bolt of lightning in the middle of a fight. That doesn't mean," the cleric continued with a softer tone, "that you didn't scare us."
All of a sudden Adelessa was struck both by just how bad the situation had been and how wonderful Serra and Erk and everyone else who had helped her was. They could have left her behind and gotten away faster without her as dead weight, but they had instead chosen to save her. I can believe it, but – but it's so much.
Serra must have seen her starting to get worked up: the next thing she knew, the cleric had swooped forward and was giving her a tight hug. "Hush," she said. "Sh, you're safe now." Adelessa buried her face in Serra's sympathetic shoulder for a few moments, working hard to keep from crying. After a few shaky minutes and a big sigh from the tactician, Serra said, "There. Do you feel better?" When Adelessa nodded into her shoulder, the pink-haired woman pulled back and grinned at her. "Don't worry – I'm sure you'll find a way to pay me back later!"
"Well, those are words to scare even the bravest of souls." Hector grinned at Adelessa from the doorway. He leaned against it with his arms crossed over his chest; he was only wearing half of his armor instead of the full battle gear. "It's good to see you awake, Aydie."
"It's good to be awake," she replied. Her smile was no smaller than his. "What are you doing up so early?" She was willing to hazard the chance that she'd sound silly; even Hector would hesitate to tease a person for getting the time wrong right after all that she'd been through.
"I've been on watch. Wil and Lowen are just finishing up breakfast. Figured I'd come in and check if your tenders were hungry – both of them have been sitting up with you all night, you know." That means I've only been out overnight – that's not so bad. "Actually, where'd Matthew go? I thought he was sulking around here."
"He was getting in the way," Serra replied primly. "I couldn't get anything done with him hovering the way he was, so I kicked him out." Her arch demeanor dropped when she added, "Matthew was all worn out. He had a hard day yesterday – I wanted him to get some rest. I think he needs more of it. You should give him more time off," she scolded the blue-haired lord.
"You say that like it's my fault," Hector grumbled, rolling his eyes theatrically. He grinned when Adelessa laughed. Oh, you sneak – you were trying to get me to laugh, weren't you? "Anyway – I guess I'll rattle around here for a while before I give everyone the good news." Adelessa grinned when Serra made shooing motions at him. She just doesn't care about rank at all. Oh, Serra. "You don't get to shoo me!" he told her incredulously as he stepped around the cleric and made his way over to where Adelessa was sitting on the bed. "You had us scared. I don't think Lyn's going to let you anywhere close to a mage for the next several years."
"I hope she doesn't mind Erk being around, then," Adelessa pointed out. Her smile ruined the deadpan delivery she had tried to give. Lyn's protective streak toward both Adelessa and Ninian were fast becoming legendary among those who hadn't been around during the Caelin incident. "But I don't particularly want to be close to another Thunder spell like that for the next several years, so I think we'll be able to work something out."
Hector chuckled and shook his head at her. "Oh, I don't know why we were even worried. You're just fine if you can make cracks like that." He looked between her and Erk for a moment, then raised an eyebrow. "Is there a reason why Lyn should have to be okay with him hanging around?"
If he was expecting some sort of flustered denial or flailing, Adelessa was afraid that she'd have to disappoint him. She shrugged a little and gave a sheepish grin. "My foster father wanted him to keep an eye on me." When all Hector did was raise his eyebrow higher, Adelessa smiled a little bit wider. "Why, Hector, I'd never thought you'd be so vested in my romantic life," she said, teasing and gently reprimanding in equal parts. He at least looked bashful, though not sorry for asking. "No, we're not involved." Erk was too busy bickering with Serra on the other side of the room to pay much attention to their conversation.
"I was just wondering, sheesh," he grumbled. He relented with a muttered, "Maybe it was a bit rude," when Adelessa just stared at him for a few seconds. "I was just wondering since you two seem to be together a lot! Elimine bless, can't I get a break?"
"Never, young master – it's your lot in life to be constantly under fire." Adelessa could see why Serra had sent Matthew to bed: he looked worn and haggard, with deep bags under his eyes. "They say it builds character, you know." He went over to stand near Hector; either he didn't notice or outright ignored the reproachful stare Serra was sending his way. "Though you hardly need any more character – in fact, you have too much for your brother's court." He gave a wry little smile. "Good morning, Aydie. Need me to drag him away for you?"
"Good morning – no, I'm fine. We've just been talking." She smiled at the thought of Matthew dragging Hector away; while most people would think that the spy wouldn't have a chance of managing that, she knew that Hector listened to Matthew enough that he would be able to pull it off. It was nice that he'd offer such: it took a lot of energy to argue with Hector and it looked like Matthew was all out.
Hector knew it, too. "Shouldn't you be sleeping?" he asked pointedly, eyes narrowed in a suspicious stare. When Matthew tried to wave away his concerns, Hector said, "No, seriously. Don't just wave me off."
"I'm fine – I got a quick few hours and now I'm ready to go again. Besides, it's worth it to wake up and realize that nothing's fallen to pieces in my absence."
"That's not what you said you would do." Matthew didn't flinch, but the slow way he turned to face the glowering Serra behind him told Adelessa all she needed to know. "You said that you were going to get some real sleep, not just a few hours of napping," the cleric said, her arms crossed over her chest. As amusing as it would be to watch them bicker, Adelessa desperately wanted breakfast. When she cleared her throat, both of them stopped to look at her.
"Is there any chance that I could go to where Wil and Lowen are cooking?" she asked. "I'd like to get something to eat."
If she was professional about nothing else in the world, Serra was about her duties as a healer. "I don't know if I want you to wander around just yet," she said, "but it would be good for you to eat. You've lost a lot of weight in the past year – have you been taking care of yourself? Oh, I don't know how you ever managed without me! I knew I shouldn't have left you alone for a year." While Serra scolded her, Adelessa carefully swung her legs over the side of the bed. As much as she respected Serra's judgment on her health, she also really wanted to get up and see everyone. It wouldn't do to lie in bed like an invalid.
She partially reconsidered that decision when the world tilted slightly on her just as she was about to stand up. A few deep breaths put it to rights, but Matthew and Hector had already moved to offer her a hand. Her pride struggled with her pragmatism. "I think I'll be okay," she said, but used Hector's shoulder to help her stand up. Her legs were a bit shaky, but it was no worse than trying to stagger around on the Davros. She was wearing a plain shirt and slacks that looked suspiciously like Kent's: the sleeves and legs were rolled up several times.
"You are miserable to try to work with, you know that?" Hector grumbled. He stood up and kept one hand on her back for support. "Serra, we'll try to keep her from doing anything too strenuous. Come on," he said before Serra had a chance to reply, "let's get some food in you." While she never would have admitted it out loud, Adelessa was glad for him being cautious and keeping close: she was feeling just wobbly enough that Hector's gentle pressure on her back kept her from toppling over a couple of times. Matthew shadowed them, staying a few paces back but close enough that he could step forward and assist if necessary. Erk and Serra trailed behind them, almost a whole hallway's length away.
When they reached the open part of the ruins, Adelessa took a moment to just look around. There were worried and gloomy faces everywhere; she felt a stab of guilt when she realized that they were probably because of her. A few people were absent, likely off on guard duty or sleeping. Sain looked up and did a double-take when he saw the three of them. "Aydie!" He all but tossed aside his meal in his haste to stand up and run over to her. Laughing, Adelessa found herself wrapped up in a tight hug and spun around by the knight.
"Hello to you too," she said once he set her back down. They both turned out Serra's scolding.
"Elimine, it's good to see you up and moving around," he said. Sain looked almost beside himself and hadn't taken his hands off of her shoulders. "How are you feeling?"
"A little tired and stiff, but not bad other than that. Hungry," she added. "I heard that there was breakfast and thought it would be good to eat something." That statement was answered quickly with Sain ushering her over to a relatively level piece of wall where she could sit and a plate of eggs and some sort of meat – "Rabbit," Rebecca supplied – placed neatly on her lap. Lyn offered her the second half of her bowl of oatmeal before Adelessa could even get started on her plate. Not only that, but she put a sprinkle of extra sugar on it before she handed it over. When Adelessa tried to protest, Lyn only reminded her that, as a Sacaean, she couldn't take back something once she offered it.
It was hard to eat with all the people who came over to talk to her. She was so busy reassuring them – yes, she was recovering well; no, she wasn't paralyzed or anything; yes, she was going to avoid mages from now on; no, this shouldn't affect her ability to strategize – that she could hardly manage to get a bite to eat. It wasn't until Hector and Eliwood both started answering for her that they caught on. Adelessa gave them a look of pure gratitude while she ate her food faster than was probably polite. I'm recovering – poorer manners than normal are forgivable, right?
As soon as she finished her meal and assured Wil and Lowen that she really did have enough, Adelessa felt fatigue dragging at her. She didn't want to leave – Rebecca and Ninian were just so happy to talk with her and she was sure that they both needed a little more reassurance – but it was only a matter of time before someone made her return to resting. Still, Adelessa really didn't want to go back yet. There was so much more she could be doing, even if it was just talking to the magic-users about the incident with the magic seal and what they could do in case it happened again-
"Aydie, you're looking a bit pale." Eliwood was frowning and she knew that she was about to be sent back inside. "You shouldn't push yourself too hard."
"You're right," she agreed, though she had a hard time admitting it. To fight against the judgment now would only make her look like a petulant child. Being ordered inside would be a bigger blow to her pride than admitting that she was tired. Oh, well. At least I had some time to talk with them and walk around. "I'm feeling a bit tired. Lying down for a while wouldn't be a bad idea."
"We'd better get you inside, then," Hector said, sealing the matter. "Sleeping out here on a slab of rock probably wouldn't help you any." He offered her a hand up; she took it. When she realized that her legs were even shakier than they had been earlier, she held on to his arm as subtly as she could. "Ready?"
"Let's go. Thanks for the wonderful breakfast," she added before they returned inside. Once out of sight of the group, she leaned more heavily against Hector. He looked down at her briefly in surprise before carefully reaching over and patting her head. He had the grace to not say anything about it, for which Adelessa was very grateful. The last thing she needed right now was some sort of speech about how there was nothing wrong with admitting weakness or anything of the sort. She'd gotten that enough from Louise that she knew it by rote.
Serra clucked disapprovingly at her when she came back into the room. "Lie down," she scolded. "At least you got some food in you and reassured them that you're not fading away on us." As much as she probably should have listened to the cleric, Adelessa tuned her out when she sat down on the bed and pulled the sheet on it up to her shoulders. "Oh, you're not even listening to me anymore. Just go to sleep, sheesh. Shoo – no, I get to shoo you when I'm taking care of someone and you're in the way, Lord Hector!" Adelessa smiled as she rolled over onto her side. "She needs her rest and you and Matthew fussing over her like mother hens isn't going to help any, not when you clatter around! Shoo!"
Adelessa spent most of the day sleeping, though she woke up for short periods of time to eat something. Sain stopped by with lunch and Kent dropped in while she was eating; the three had a chat that lasted until they conveniently had to go on guard duty when she started yawning. Rebecca and Lowen brought her dinner. Ninian came in a while after them and stayed even when Adelessa dozed off.
When she woke up the next time, it was nearly pitch black. She squinted in the darkness and tried to figure out what woke her. Something moving next to her made her freeze and reach for a knife that wasn't on her before she realized that Ninian had just crawled into bed with her. Why is she sitting up? "Ninian?" she called quietly. "What's going on?" When the girl's only answer was to stand up and move toward the door, Adelessa swung her legs out of bed and pulled on her over-tunic. The blue-haired girl was out of the room before she got to her feet; hesitating, she clipped on her belt. It never hurt to be prepared, after all.
Serra must have gone to her own room for the night, Adelessa realized when she looked around for help. It's probably close to midnight – no one but the sentries would be up. That meant that no one was around to help her and there wasn't enough time to stop and wake someone up. Barefoot, Adelessa drew her over-tunic closer around her to ward off the chill in the air and followed Ninian outside. The moon was nearly full and helped her navigate the rubble surrounding the building they'd chosen as their own. Without it, she was sure that she wouldn't have been able to keep up with Ninian. Somehow, despite tottering steps, the dancer was able to move swiftly through the ruins toward a smaller building about a hundred yards away.
It was in similar disarray as the one she'd just left. It was about the size of a house; in fact, when Adelessa stepped inside of it, she could almost swear that it used to be one. The way it was laid out made the argument for it. When passing through the more intact part of the house, she saw what looked like a library.
She found Ninian in one of the furthest rooms in the house. "Ninian?" she called. The girl didn't move; instead, she stood stock-still in the center of the room. When Adelessa picked her way around the room, she saw that her eyes were open and staring into space. The moonlight hit them just rightand made it almost look like they were glowing red in the darkness. "Ninian, are you alright?"
"He's going away," she said. Adelessa stared at her for a moment, not following what was going on. "Daddy's going to go get Mommy." Her left hand tightened around her right, where Adelessa knew Ninis' Grace was resting on her index finger. "I have to take care of Nils."
"Ninian?" Adelessa reached out to touch Ninian's shoulder. As soon as her fingers brushed against her, Ninian gave a great shudder and her eyes snapped shut. Adelessa snatched her hand back; she wasn't sure what was going on and really didn't want to risk anything when she was still recovering from what happened with the Thunder spell. A breathless few seconds passed before those red eyes opened again. Bewildered, Ninian looked all around her. "Ninian, why did you come here?"
For a moment Adelessa despaired of ever getting an answer from Ninian. After several beats of silence, though, she said, "This place – I feel as if I know it. It's… it's familiar."
"Familiar?" she echoed. "What do you-"
"Aydie!" Eliwood was in the doorway, one hand gripping the stone that made it. The other carried a torch. She could hear Lyn and Hector's voices further down the hall. One of them must have seen us leave, thank the spirits. "Aydie, why were you coming out here?" When she didn't immediately answer, he asked, "What's wrong? What's going on?"
"I'm not entirely sure." Adelessa tugged her over-tunic tighter around her. The warmth from running had worn off and now she was cold again. Hector and Lyn stepped into the room when Eliwood waved them in from the hall. "Ninian was acting like she knew this place – she said she did, too. It could have something to do with her amnesia."
"Her amnesia?" Hector asked. "Why on Elibe would she be familiar with anything around here?" Adelessa shrugged and shook her head helplessly; she was just as befuddled as them. Several moments passed in quiet while she checked to make sure that Ninian was uninjured; miraculously, the dancer had avoided cutting her feet on any rocks. Adelessa's feet were sore but intact as well.
"This is a very old building," Eliwood said, breaking the silence. "Look at the brick – it must have been abandoned for centuries to look like this."
"I don't know the last time people were supposed to have lived on Valor," Adelessa agreed.
"Pardon me." Except for Ninian, each of them jumped when a quiet, bass voice spoke up from the door. A man stood there, cloaked and cowled in what looked like dark gray – Adelessa couldn't tell in this lighting. "Hello."
"Oh, uh, hello," Hector said. "Do you live here?" Adelessa wanted to sigh; they had just finished talking about how no one lived on the Dread Isle. Besides that, it didn't look like this place had been home to anyone for centuries – there was no furniture, no food, no supplies.
"No," the man replied. "I'm just a traveler. My name is Teodor. I was walking in the woods and became tired – I had stopped to rest here the other day." The man patted a wall. "This building…. It's been empty for quite some time. It makes a nice resting place."
"Would you mind terribly if we stayed for a short while as well?" Adelessa asked. If nothing else, perhaps we can ask him for news of what's been happening around here. This isn't that far off the main path for the Dragon's Gate, after all. Maybe we can even recruit him to help us.
"Not at all – please, take a seat." Ninian stuck close to Adelessa's side as they arranged themselves into a rough circle on the floor.
As soon as they were seated, Adelessa asked, "Do you know what this place used to be?"
"It's a ruin from the Scouring," he replied. "Originally, it was the home of a dark sorcerer. I've found several ancient tomes here. Most of them from the original occupant, but some from others who've lived here as well. It's fascinating stuff, really – if I can unlock the secrets within the tomes, I can move closer to the darkness. From what I've gathered this far, I must make further reparations."
Adelessa's skin crawled. The last time she heard someone talk like this- "Reparations?" Eliwood asked.
"Oh, yes – it's the fate of those who study dark magic." It took all of her willpower to keep from jumping up and bolting out the door. It was one thing to tolerate Canas, a shaman who seemed more academically interested in dark magic than its power. This man seemed far less principled. "If you covet the dark, you have to be willing to dive deeply into it. You have to erase yourself and become an empty vessel for it to fill." The three lords didn't seem that fazed by what he had to say, but of course they didn't; Lycia wasn't known for having shamans, not like the Dread Isle or Bern. They didn't have experience with what a shaman or dark mage could do besides what they'd seen Canas do. "Only when you do that can you receive the dark and master it. If your disposition is weak, the dark will easily overwhelm you. People like that are… lost." Ninian trembled slightly at her side; Adelessa had to check to make sure she wasn't. "Most people forget why they were searching for that power – only a few actually obtain true power. Giving up your self is a small price to pay for all that."
Eliwood, of the three, looked the most unsettled with the news, though she was sure that all five of them looked less than happy at this little explanation. Teodor didn't seem to notice their discomfort, because he continued with, "I've heard rumors that Bramimond, one of the eight legends, devoted herself entirely to the dark. All her emotions, all her memory – drowned in a river of darkness. That's how she gained the power to beat dragons."
"But – why would someone want to gain power at the cost of their own identity?" Eliwood asked.
"'I must have it at any cost.'" Teodor looked directly at Eliwood. "Hasn't every person felt that way before? It's a common desire. I know I have. Haven't you, Lord Eliwood of Pherae?" Darkness swarmed in on Adelessa; with some struggle, she threw off the pressing dizziness and drew her knife. "Well, what have we here?"
She was acutely aware that she wasn't wearing any armor, that the others were fighting, and losing, against the same dizzy spell, that her feet were bare, and that she really shouldn't try to fight in her current condition. She realized that whatever he had cast had also doused the torch to a single low, flickering tongue of flame. "I won't let you hurt them," she said anyway.
"Hm. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless, I lay claim to the deed of killing the young noble of Pherae since Uhai and Aion were unable to do so. I'm sure that I'll have plenty of time to study the treasures in this ruin once I'm finished with you." The pressure in the room – the same one that had her so scared and held the lords still – relented when he left. Unfortunately, there was no cause for celebration. By the time that the others had recovered, a black mist appeared to blind them. The torch gave out entirely when the fog hit it, plunging the room into pitch darkness. Adelessa could hardly see her hand in front of her face.
"Is this fog?" she heard Lyn ask. "I can't see anything!"
"It's magic," Adelessa answered. "Teodor cast it, I'm sure of it." Anyone who's fought with him before – he probably brought units with him, after all – will have an advantage over us. We're blind and sitting ducks here. Reaching for Ninian, Adelessa's heart gave a lurch: she couldn't find the girl. "Ninian?" A few frantic seconds of searching confirmed her worst fear. "I think they took her!"
"Then we'll just have to get her back," Hector said grimly. "Lyndis, do you want to go back and try to get help?"
"I will – we'll try to find you. It might take some time." Lyn's voice was worried.
Adelessa tried to reassure her. "Don't worry – I know you'll do just fine. If nothing else, you can still hear us. With Hector fighting, I'm sure we'll make plenty of noise." She was glad for the darkness: she could project all the assurance and confidence in her voice that she wanted, but it was a bit harder to hide her pale face. This was not something that Adelessa wanted to do. There was nothing good about this situation. Teodor had all of the tactical advantages. "Get Matthew and a few torches – that should make the darkness a little easier to handle."
"Right. Just – be careful," Lyn added. Adelessa strained her ears to hear the swordswoman's cautious footsteps. She waited until she couldn't hear her anymore before she started talking.
"We're at a pretty severe disadvantage in this encounter," she started, "but we don't have the ability to retreat, not if they have Ninian." Her eyes were finally adjusting to the darkness: she could just barely make out Eliwood and Hector. From how they were squinting, she had to assume that their vision was coming into focus as well. "We'll have to take it slowly – with only the three of us, we can't hope to fight off numbers like we're used to."
"We?" Hector asked. "Aydie, you're not going to fight unless push comes to shove. No – don't even try arguing," he insisted flatly. "You know as well as we do that you're in no shape to be running around, much less fighting."
"Alright – no, you're right. I'll try to avoid the fighting." Hector aborted whatever else he was going to say with a long sigh of relief. Eliwood was just as relieved. "I wasn't planning on engaging any enemies, though your concern is appreciated." She realized that she was smoothing her thumb over her medallion and immediately stopped. "The chances of Teodor staying in this house are slim – he probably retreated elsewhere in the ruins. Certainly not to the building that we've been using as a base, not with you having raised an alarm of some sort, so elsewhere in the area."
"There was a larger building off to the east," Eliwood supplied. "It's not too far from here and it's the only other mostly-intact building that I saw. Might he have gone there?"
"It's very likely – though we'll have to watch ourselves." She brailled around for the extinguished torch for a moment before she found it. "We might want to light this and leave it near the entrance to the other ruins. Lyn and whomever she's bringing will have a better chance of finding us in the dark if we do." She handed over the torch when Hector reached for it. "We'd do better to scout rather than outright attacking the Black Fang members."
"You're sure we can't just pounce on a couple at a time and take them out quickly?" Hector asked. When Adelessa shook her head in answer, he grumbled, "Sneaking around it Matthew's work. I was never any good at it. Whatever – I'll do it. I just can't promise I'll be as quiet as you want me to be."
"I know, but it's either that or we risk them taking off with Ninian. We have to act or else we'll be left trying to catch up." Adelessa wasn't particularly comfortable taking the two lords with her while she crept around, but she didn't see a good alternative. She knew that having them would slow her down and they'd be much nosier than if she was on her own. But, she thought, if I don't have them with me, then I'd be sure to lose any fights I could get into. Ultimately, it was better to have them with her than not.
"Then we'd better get going," Hector said decisively. "Just warning you, though – if we do get in a fight, I'm not going to be taking any prisoners."
"I wouldn't expect you to in this situation," Adelessa replied. They would do what was necessary: in a crisis such as this, they couldn't afford to waste time coddling the enemy when they could be betrayed by them. It wasn't a pleasant thing to do, but she could put her reservations aside and get the job done. "Then we're in agreement. Let's go."
The open air outside of the house was just as opaque with the black mist as inside of it. Adelessa had Hector light the torch, but its flickering, wan light hardly made a dent in the inky darkness around them. Adelessa was too on-edge to put away her knife; she found that instead of fussing with her necklace, she was rubbing her fingers on the grip constantly. At least that was less obvious; she let it be. If worrying it would keep her from spinning off into frantic fretting, it was worth a little bit of wear on the wrapping.
When they finally reached the eastern ruin and Eliwood confirmed that it was the one he had meant, Hector stabbed the torch into the ground deep enough that it would stand on its own. "Hopefully no one finds it and puts it out," he said, voicing the thought that they each had.
"Hopefully," Adelessa agreed. "Now, then-" She stopped when Hector put a hand on her shoulder. She turned to him, confused as to why he was stopping her and giving her such an incredulous look. "What?"
"You're not going in there first – didn't we just get done saying that you're recovering and shouldn't be fighting?" Oh, good, now I get to argue with Hector some more.
"Listen," she replied, her voice a bare whisper, "I'm the best at being quiet while moving around of the three of us. This way I don't have to tell you what way I want to go – we won't waste as much time. Besides, you can always drag me back or jump forward if there's a fight and you'll be watching behind us." She spoke quickly and quietly, trying to convince him without wasting any more time. Looking between the two of them, she saw that they were both still skeptical. "But," she conceded, "if it makes you feel better, one of you can take the lead." It wasn't the time to prolong an unnecessary argument. Eliwood went in through the open archway first, his rapier held ready at his side. Adelessa stepped quietly after him; what little light the torch provided was eclipsed by Hector's bulk when he followed her into the ruin.
Squinting into the darkness, the tactician gave her eyes a moment to adjust to the light level in the building. From what she could see through the holes in the walls, it was a pretty simple structure: this seemed to be a main hall of some sort, shaped like an L with a room to the south lining it and one to the northwest nestled in the corner it made. Of course, that left plenty of room for enemies to hide and they hadn't the slightest idea where Teodor or Ninian could be. Making a quick decision, she pointed at one of the doors that led to the southern room. Nodding, Eliwood started in that direction.
When he tested the knob, it didn't turn. "Locked or jammed," he whispered. "I'm not sure which." Adelessa allowed a breath to hiss out between her teeth while she thought; shaking her head, she took a couple of steps along the wall. Eliwood caught on quickly: he started to lead them further down the hall. He stopped abruptly when Adelessa grabbed the back of his shirt. Adelessa could see the question on his face when he turned to look at her but didn't answer it.
They were almost to the corner. That was fine, but how the doors were placed on the room to the north made Adelessa leery of going forward anymore. If they continued in the direction they were going, they could be cut off from the exit by enemy units coming out of that door. Holding a finger up to her lips, she picked up a small chunk of stone and lobbed it forward. It hit the floor with a tap and skittle, though that wasn't nearly as impressive as the soldiers that burst out of the room across from them. Eliwood and Hector didn't wait for her orders; all three of them scrambled toward the exit. Adelessa hadn't caught a good look of their opponents – they wore black and dark gray, which was even harder to see than normal in this lighting – but it was hard to mistake the heavy armor of knights even in low light.
Hector skidded to a stop when they got most of the way to the entrance. He whirled around and clobbered the closest knight with his axe. The hit rang in a reverberating CLANG loud enough that Adelessa winced. Before she had the chance to ask him what he thought he was doing, he was running toward her and Eliwood again. "Better make some noise so they know where to come!" he said. Adelessa could hear the grin in his voice even without seeing it.
As soon as they were all through the archway, Eliwood and Hector both turned around to face the oncoming enemies. Adelessa bent over double, propped herself up with her hands on her thighs, and tried to catch her breath. She was glad that they'd caught on to her strategy of forming bottlenecks: with how they were positioned in front of the entrance, they would be able to limit the number of enemies that could attack them at once. Eliwood and Hector's time spent practicing together became very obvious when they started to fight. Not only could they go on the offensive together, doling out strikes in complementary patterns, but they also did a good job of defending each other. The phrase 'greater than the sum of the parts' comes to mind.
Even so, there were too many enemies for two people to hope to defeat. By the time Adelessa had properly caught her breath, the lords had been forced back several steps. In the torchlight, Adelessa could see the black armor and good quality weapons; these soldiers seemed like a step above the others that they had fought so far. She gripped her knife tighter when she saw that the first of the enemy units to edge around Eliwood and Hector was coming toward her.
A javelin whizzed past her head, close enough that she instinctively ducked and covered her head. "Sorry!" An arm looped around her middle and lifted her off of the ground. Sain grinned at her and hugged her close. "Didn't mean to get that close. Here – hold on tight!" Clinging to him – she had long since learned that riding with a cavalier was not an easy ride – Adelessa prayed that she wouldn't be thrown off and clenched her jaw. Sain let go of her to grip his lance. "Easy does it, my lords!" he yelled. "Reinforcements are about to arrive!"
A sudden flash of white light left Adelessa blinking furiously to clear her vision. When it did, she could have danced with happiness: Lyn was there with what looked like most of the group. A few people were missing, but Adelessa couldn't pick out who in the darkness and didn't care to try to figure out right this instant. Erk, Canas, Rebecca, and Wil had all attacked the enemies in the archway and driven them back. Adelessa had to clutch at Sain again when he suddenly spurred his horse forward. An arrow ricocheted off of the ground where they had just been standing. Rebecca swung her bow up and fired almost immediately; a pained yelp and thump followed the shot.
Sain helped Adelessa get down and made sure she was steady before he trotted over to stand next to Kent. "You know, for all that you say that I have good timing, I don't think you could have come at a better time," she told Lyn. Good – now that I have something to work with, I can actually do this! "Lucius, your magic is pretty good at lighting up our surroundings. Rather than fighting, I'd like you to try to increase our visibility as much as you can. There are several rooms inside of here – one should be empty already from when they ambushed us. Besides that, I have no idea of the numbers. If we keep to our normal defensive formation, though, we should be able to handle whatever the commander throws at us. We have to hurry – we think that they have Ninian." A ripple of dismay ran through those present; Ninian had grown even on those who hadn't known her during the Caelin incident.
"Which means," Hector said from behind her, "that we have to get moving. There's no time for pretty speeches or grand schemes. We go in there, we get Ninian, we beat the guy who's trying to kill us, and then we go back to bed." The blue-haired lord clapped a hand on her shoulder. "No more time to waste – c'mon!"
It only took a few moments for them to fall into position. They trickled through the entrance; at Adelessa's command, the strong fighters went through first to form a line behind which the rest of the group could assemble once they were inside of the ruin. It was good that she'd ordered for that: remnants of the ambush had thought to attack while the mages were entering the room. That skirmish didn't last long – between Hector getting a second wind and Oswin being a surprisingly effective fighter even at this time of night, the front-line fighters were able to stymie and defeat the enemy units.
Adelessa tried the doors to the south room again when they passed them, but was disappointed to find that all three were locked. Through a few palm-sized holes in the wall, she could just barely see shelves. Another library of some sort?she wondered. Regardless, it didn't look like there were any people in there and the more pressing matter of finding Teodor and defeating him to lift the spell of this black mist needed to be addressed. Matthew had all but attached himself to her as soon as they had made their way into the building and had been steadily telling her what he could see through the fog. She was glad for it – he could apparently make out things twice as far away as she could.
"I see movement at the end of the hallway," he said when they reached the corner. Adelessa squinted in that direction, but even with Lucius' magic lighting up their area she couldn't make anything out that far away.
"Alright. Be careful – Teodor might be with them, and shamans are not someone you want to go toe-to-toe with if you're not as versed in magic as them. Lucius, Canas, I want you two to fight him when we find him. You'll have the best chance of countering any magic that he'll cast." Both of them agreed with her assessment and moved to stand near her. "Keeping up that light isn't tiring you, is it?"
"Not at all," Lucius reassured her. "This is hardly a draw on my abilities at all, though your concern is touching." Adelessa smiled at him and he gave her a small one in return before the group started forward again.
The swordsmen in the group leaped forward to match several myrmidons that slipped into the light. Sain, Kent, Lowen, and Marcus followed after them with precise but deadly strikes with their polearms. The horsemen had to retreat quickly to avoid the knights with pikes that came after them; the fifteen-foot-long spears were well-known for being able to take out a horse and its rider well before they could get in range with their lances. "Archers!" Adelessa called; Wil and Rebecca fired at the knights, which slowed them down but didn't drop them. Erk was starting to cast a spell even before Adelessa started to address him. That did the trick; the knights that survived the fireball he threw had to abandon their weapons and scramble away. They were easy pickings after that.
Looking up from that, Adelessa had just enough time to see an even blacker spot in the darkness before she was bowled over backwards. She cringed – oh, this isn't going to end well, I'm going to hit my head so hard on the ground! – but the impact she expected never happened. Instead, a wiry arm cushioned her head and kept it from hitting the ground like the rest of her. When she opened her eyes, she saw Matthew checking to make sure she was alright.
"Stay down," he hissed. "Teodor's probably going to aim for you and the lords, and Lucius can only shield them." He didn't break off eye contact until she managed to nod; standing cautiously, he looked around rapidly. I'm glad Matthew was there. That would have hit me otherwise. Looking around, she spotted where the spell had hit the wall: there was a nice gaping hole where stone used to be and, by looking through it, a tree bifurcated outside. Well. That would have killed me.
Common sense dictated that she should listen to Matthew. Her duties as a tactician stated that she should keep an eye on the proceedings despite danger to herself. Ever the intelligent one, Adelessa decided that she would compromise between the two: she sat up and peered between bodies in the way. She couldn't get a very good look at what was going on without standing – and if she stood, she had no doubt that she would be in so much trouble – but what she did spot both heartened and worried her.
A gleaming, pristine white barrier of light wrapped immediately in front of the lords. Those three were hunkered down behind it to avoid a bombardment of black spheres. Canas was busy preparing another spell, but Rebecca and Wil were able to fire off a few arrows in a break between the incoming spells. Canas stood taller so that he could look over the shield of light and returned fire with what looked like a lattice of black spheres and gray links. It left strange afterimages on Adelessa's eyes when she looked away. Whatever the spell was, it didn't work as well as the shaman had apparently hoped – the bombardment continued after a few seconds.
Sain risked throwing a javelin down the hall and nearly took a Flux spell to the chest. Only Kent's quick lunge to drag him away kept him from suffering the space-warping effects of the spell. "At least I clipped him!" Sain protested.
"Good job," Adelessa said. "Lucius, how are you holding up?"
"It would be good if we finished this quickly," the monk responded. From where she sat, Adelessa could see that he was starting to shake and the threads of light that stretched from his hands to the shield were beginning to fray. "I can hold this for a while longer, but I'm not sure how long 'a while' will be."
"Canas, can you-?" The shaman stopped her with a nod; his lips were already moving as he traced his finger down a page in his tome. Anxious seconds ticked by. Adelessa constantly glanced between Lucius and Canas, watching either for the former to falter or the latter to finish his spell.
All at once, an especially large burst of dark magic crashed into Lucius' shield. It annihilated the barrier, but disappeared along with it. At the same time, Canas shoved his hand out in front of him toward the shaman just visible at the end of the hall. A similar form to his last spell burst from his hand and swept down the hall. It intercepted and engulfed the smaller spells that Teodor had continued to cast. Adelessa forced herself to watch the net of the spell wrap around the enemy shaman. The mesh seemed to suck in all of the light in the room for a breath's length before both the spell and the man collapsed into nothing.
She stood up and caught Canas while he was swaying despite just how unnerved she was by what he cast. "What wasthat?" Eliwood asked; his voice was somewhere between awe and fear.
"A spell called Luna – gravitic forces, old spell, very good at what it does," Canas replied wearily. "Thank you, Aydie, but I think I need to sit down and drink some water." She and Guy helped him to sit against the wall. "I'll be fine after a bit of rest."
"Don't worry about it," Adelessa said, trying to put as much warmth and reassurance into her voice as she could manage. "You just take your time. The rest of us can start searching now that the fog's lifting." It was, too, as if being blown away by a breeze they couldn't feel. While certainly not close to the level of daylight, it was easier to see when they had the moon illuminating what it could. "If everyone could split up and search the rooms around here, I'd greatly appreciate it. Try not to wander off alone – I don't want anyone to be caught on their own by a surprise attack." The company drifted apart in pairs or groups of three or four to search for Ninian.
Adelessa had meant to stay near Canas and Lucius to wait for word from those out searching, but something caught her eye. One of the doors to the southernmost room was open. After a moment's thought, she made the executive decision to look at what was in that room. "I'll be right back," she told Lucius and Canas. "If someone comes back before I do, ask them to wait and let them know that I'll be back shortly." She left before either of them could protest her leaving. That's how one gets away with things, after all!
Easing the door open slightly wider so that she could slip through it, Adelessa stepped into the room beyond. Moonlight illuminated the room thanks to a mostly-missing roof. Shelves were packed full of tomes. When Adelessa reached to touch one, she could feel magic emanating from it strongly enough that it buzzed against her skin. She snatched her hand back. She had only taken a few steps further down the room when a hand on her shoulder made her jump.
"Honestly, Elimine bless, can I not take my eyes off of you for a minute before you're off trying to get yourself killed?" Matthew's glare was surprisingly hard-eyed. The last time she'd seen it was during the Caelin incident.
"I'm not trying to get myself-"
"Yeah, well, you've been doing a good job of it anyway." Stung, Adelessa found herself at a loss for words. "Do you even have any idea of what you're doing?"
"I do!" she shot back. "I know perfectly well-"
"And that's why you wander around alone when you could get attacked? Yes, that's a brilliant plan!" Matthew closed his eyes and took a deep breath; Adelessa waited in hurt and wary silence for what he was going to say. "I'm sorry," he said more quietly. "That's not what I wanted to say. It's just that – do you even know how upset we all were when you went down yesterday?"
He isn't mad at me, or at least not mostly – he's scared. Adelessa let go of her irritation at his pointed questions. After all that he's been through… "I'm sorry, too – it's just easier to work alone sometimes."
"Yeah, well – working alone is what gets you killed, you know. I thought you'd figured out by now that there's at least a couple of people around here who can keep up with you."
"I'll try to keep that in mind," she promised. About to say something else, a sparkle of light off of familiar jewelry caught her eye. She moved past Matthew, walked past several shelves, and saw Ninian standing not too far away. "Ninian?" she called cautiously. When she didn't get a response, she made her way over to the girl and looked at what had her so fascinated.
The image was hard to see at first, but when she did it caused eerie chills to creep up her spine. While she'd seen plenty of paintings of dragons from the Scouring while she'd traveled, they had always depicted them while they were fighting. This one had only a man and a dragon, peacefully facing one another. Some of the details had faded with time; the identity of the man was impossible to make out. Well, not like he'd still be alive anyways, Adelessa thought. Thinking to try what had worked before, she gently touched Ninian's shoulder. "Ninian?"
This time it was a slow reaction. Ninian blinked at her as if waking up from something. "Aydie?"
"Did this remind you of something?" Adelessa waved at the painting.
"Yes? No." Ninian looked as confused as Adelessa. Matthew, from where he stood back in the shelves, could only give Adelessa a befuddled shrug when she looked to him for help. "I'm sorry."
"No, it's alright. Don't worry about it. I'm just glad I found you." Adelessa offered her a hand; Ninian took it and tagged along with her as she started to walk back to the hallway. "You'll remember what you've forgotten soon enough. For now, though, we need to go back to bed." Maybe in the morning this will make more sense. And, if not, I'll have plenty of time to think about it while we're traveling. She glanced at Matthew out of the corner of her eye. And maybe someone to talk to about it.
A/N: Phew, long chapter! x_)))
Thanks as always to my wonderful beta Ryan! Thanks as well to my reviewers: Drachegirl14, Tom-Ato13, patattack, MilleniaMaster, Sentury, AuthorOfTheDark, Sparks101, Raven the Blood witch, Solyeuse, angelbeets, and AquaticSilver! You encourage me so much!
Next week's chapter may be a bit late: it's going to be a big chapter and I don't know if it will be done by Friday. I'll try, though! Just thought I'd give you a heads-up.