Gwen landed painfully on the hardwood floor at high speed. Everything ached and she coughed hard, trying to refill the air that had been forced from her lungs. Temporarily blinded by blue light, she tried to make use of her other senses, but all she could hear was a ringing in her ears. As her senses cleared she could make out voices. She forced herself up into a crouched position. In front of her blue runes danced in quick circles under the manus and Hieronymous. The manus was saying something...
"...welcome to the Otherworld, son of Grabiner!"
Gwen blinked as her senses fully returned. She rubbed her eyes in disbelief. Hieronymous' body was flickering wildly, disappearing and reappearing at random intervals. Hieronymous stood clutching his shoulders hard, shaking. His teeth were clenched and his face was contorted in agony.
The manus shifted his gaze from Hieronymous to Gwen, and as he began to recognize her, his eyes widened in surprise. "You!" he said with a sinister grin, "You're that foolish girl from before." His laughter echoed throughout the room. "Come, cross the wards that bind me, save your husband, if you dare. This time his peril is no bluff, little girl!" he said in an attempt to taunt her.
Gwen knew first hand how foolish it would be to cross the wards, but she believed that the danger to Hieronymous was real this time, as the manus claimed. Once across the wards and within the circle, the manus could devour her soul. Technically, it should not be capable of harming a member of the House of Grabiner, but looking at Hieronymous, something had changed. Gwen desperately looked around the room for something she could use as a weapon and grabbed the only pointed object. Which happened to be an umbrella. As she held it between herself and the manus, she tried to imagine how she must look; a sixteen year old girl in her pajamas wielding an umbrella.
A wicked grin crossed the manus' face, revealing a row of white, sharp teeth, as he beckoned her to cross the wards.
Gwen muttered a chant and for a moment, glowed green, her muscles gaining definition. Then she ran into the circle, charging with the umbrella, screaming furiously.
The manus didn't even bother to dodge her, he just continued to gloat words she couldn't hear over her cry. At the very last second he saw a black glow and the flash of steel. He looked down to see an incensed Gwen holding a sword protruding from his left shoulder.
Gwen pulled the sword out and retreated back a step.
The manus' blood splashed across the floor and it roared in anger and pain. "You insolent little girl!" it screamed.
The manus lashed out with its claws and Gwen held up her sword in time to block a fatal blow. It's razor sharp talons tore the flesh on her left shoulder. But before the manus could strike a second blow she drove her sword deep into it's arm. Pushing with all of her borrowed might and heart pounding from adrenaline, she drove her sword deeper until the manus' arm lay beside her foot.
The manus roared in pain.
As Gwen readied herself for a killing blow, the manus' eyes widened in fear. With a vicious thrust she lunged toward its heart. In a bright flash, the manus vanished, leaving Gwen slashing at thin air.
The manus' voice whispered parting words in her mind, "Your husband's soul is mine. We'll meet again in Otherworld."
The runes had disappeared, along with their blue glow, leaving only moonlight in the room. To her horror, Hieronymous was still fading in and out. Not knowing what else to do, she dropped her now-umbrella to the ground and ran to him. In his agony he didn't seem to be aware of her presence. She desperately waited for him to appear solid, then grabbed hold of both his arms. Immediately something began pulling her. It felt like a nothingness, drawing her somewhere with him. Digging her heels in, she clasped him harder and tried to pull them both back from the hungry void, but she was losing him.
"Please!" she screamed at him, "Hieronymous, wake-up!" she felt her grasp slipping and her heart pounded in her throat as she imagined losing him forever, here and now, unable to do a damn thing about it.
"Please," she sobbed and hugged him tightly, his form so ghostly she could see through him.
His face twisted at last, and instead of agony, she could see the fire in his eyes alight with concentration. She felt the pull lessen as he helped her fight against it. Arms shaking, his eyes looking at another world, he forced his hands from his shoulders and embraced her with all his strength, tethering himself back to the real world. Gwen poured everything she had left into helping him push away from the darkness. She sensed Hieronymous doing the same, and she could feel his power dwarfing hers by comparison.
In a rush they were free from the current of magic that had been pushing against them. For a moment they both stood, gasping for air, holding one another for dear life. Hieronymous was dangerously pale, covered in sweat, and blood trailed down both of his arms where he had dug in with his nails. Gwen's shoulder bled from where the manus' claws had made contact, her left leg was throbbing painfully along with numerous other parts of her, presumably from her impromptu Teleportation across a vast distance. She had used blue, green, black, and white magic – had used more than she had to give - and she could feel it catching up with her.
For the moment, Gwen let relief wash over her and enjoyed his arms around her, contentedly listening to his breathes. "Hieronymous..." she whispered, saying his name with all the relief she felt that he was safe. And then her exhaustion caught up with her and she let herself fall into a deep and blissful sleep.
Warm sunlight burned at Gwen's eyes. She groaned and put her hand over her face, trying to block it out. She was still tired, and besides it was summer vacation, she could sleep in. She could vaguely recall dreaming about Hieronymous. Maybe if she fell back asleep she could continue her dream. But the sun was relentless so she decided to close her curtains. She sat up and then immediately lay back down as she was greeted by pain, nausea, and dizziness. She hissed at the pain to avoid yelling. It was then she noticed her sheets felt oddly different. They even smelled different, starchier, with no trace of flowery fabric softener. And something was off... the light, yes, the light was coming from the wrong direction.
Opening her eyes Gwen saw a room that was not her own. It felt familiar. There was a chair next to the bed with a figure in it. She looked up and saw Hieronymous asleep. Then it dawned on her; she was in his room sleeping in his bed.
Gwen wondered if she was dreaming. A throbbing in her left shoulder and leg thoroughly answered her question. She looked back at Hieronymous sleeping in his chair. He looked so peaceful and handsome. Even sleeping in such an awkward position, somehow he still managed to look refined. Seeing him there she longed to stroke his face, to kiss him lovingly on the cheek. To treat him the way a real wife treated a real husband.
Hieronymous blinked and groaned in what sounded like contempt aimed at the entire world.
'I wonder if he always sounds that way when he wakes up?' She smiled at the thought.
"Good morning," she said.
Hieronymous raised his eyebrows at the sound of her voice. "Ah, you are awake," he said with evident relief. Hieronymous rubbed his temples with one hand, trying to dispel away the final remnants of sleep. "How are you feeling?"
"I feel terrific," Gwen said sarcastically, "You know, aside from all of the pain."
Hieronymous leaned forward and placed an elbow on his knee while he moved his other hand in arcane gestures and muttered a Diagnosis spell.
"You were truly fortunate, there does not appear to be any permanent damage. Professor Potsdam will be able to affect a complete recovery. She should arrive before nightfall."
His voice was raspy and tired. He looked exhausted. Gwen noticed his thick, dark curls hanging loosely, in disorder. She had only seen him disheveled like this once before when he was sick. Back then she had brought him soup and had seen his quarters for the first time. It had looked very much the same as it did now, though she hadn't seen it for long before he had dismissed her. A large window diffused sunlight through white curtains. The bed was a four-poster with drapery matching the curtains. A clean desk sat beside the bed on one side and a nightstand on the other. The desk displayed a feathered quill ink pen beside an ink well. On the night stand sat a pile of thick books with colorful spines, all embroidered with long, golden titles. Beside the books was a curious looking wooden box.
"Last night..." Gwen began.
His mouth twisted into a sour expression.
Gwen could remember teleporting, fighting the manus, and seeing him nearly disappear before her eyes. But, she wondered, what was the manus even doing here in the first place? "Whathappened last night?"
A raspy growl escaped his lips. "Historic incompetence."
Gwen shot him a venomous look.
He raised an eyebrow in return. "Oh," he said in understanding, "I was not attributing that to you. ...I was referring to myself. However," he said giving her an austere look, "what you did last night was the grandest display of foolish bravado and heroism I have ever seen. You are astonishingly lucky that you did not perish."
Gwen looked down, hurt.
"Nonetheless... it was my errors in judgment that put you in the situation. You selflessly risked your life to save mine. I am grateful." He sighed and settled back in his arm chair. "I took a vow to protect you from harm. I will not be able to do that if you keep jumping into these kinds of situations."
"Likewise," she smiled.
Hieronymous smiled despite himself and couldn't help but chuckle.
"Fair point," he replied. "But, you should know, you only defeated the manus out of surprise. They are not often attacked by young women in night attire wielding umbrellas," he said with a grin.
"You saw that?" Gwen asked, slightly embarrassed.
"I was vaguely aware of the events around me, enough to see a small blur in pajamas wielding an umbrella, attacking a much larger, blue blur," his rich, low voice took on a mocking tone.
"Oh..." Her cheeks fully flushed. She wondered if he also remembered her embracing him, pleading and crying in a desperate attempt to save him. "Hieronymous... may I ask you something?"
"Hmm?" he impassively replied.
"What on Earth were you doing last night?" She honestly couldn't believe he had summoned the manus again. Professor Grabiner was infamous at Iris Academy for valuing safe magical practices above all else. Gwen knew on a more personal note that he was deeply motivated to terrify students into following safe practices to save them from making the same mistakes he and his former girlfriend, Violet, had once made. Those mistakes had cost Violet's shook her head. It doesn't make sense...
"I was performing an experiment. I inadvertently gave the manus power over myself. It tried to force me into the Otherworld. Resisting that force... was severing my soul from my body."
Gwen bit her lip and tried to imagine how that must have felt. "What went wrong? I thought he couldn't harm you..."
"The manus can neither kill me nor devour my soul. Somehow, I gave it power over me, and with that power, it placed me in..." he paused carefully selecting his words, "less than desirable circumstances."
Gwen's expression soured as she tried to imagine what the professor had done to give the manus power over him.
"As for you, it should not be able to come devour your soul. Our marriage still protects you. However, once you attacked it, you negated the part of its oath to not physically harm you."
"Can I assume you're done summoning the blasted thing, then?" Gwen said, slightly frustrated. Before Hieronymous could reply, she continued. "Why were you summoning it by yourself anyway? Last time, Professor Potsdam barely arrived in time to save me. What made you think that this time would be different?"
Hieronymous scowled, "I thought I had discovered where I went wrong the first time. But this time, something had changed. Something was different."
Gwen feeling slightly better, sat up and looked him in the eyes. "Well, I can't pretend to understand the inner workings of magic; in that regard I'm only your student. However, as your wife, and even just as a friend, what you were doing was very foolish," she shook her head at him, "Especially for you."
"It might have been foolish of me, but as your professor, I expect you to defer to my knowledge of magic. And as your husband, I expect you to respect me, rather than chiding me because you think you are right," he said tersely.
"I do respect you, but you could have died," she replied sharply, her piercing tone cutting through Hieronymous' defenses. "Being respected and keeping your pride are two different things."
With a frustrated sigh Hieronymous looked her directly in the eyes. "Very well. You are absolutely right. Satisfied?" he asked with feigned sincerity.
She took a breath and calmed down before continuing. "I didn't come here to argue with you," she said, irritated. "I'm only here because you called my name with the Farspeak Spell. You sounded like you needed help, and here I am. For the record, I was sleeping peacefully before you woke me up."
"Is that so?" he replied, passively.
Gwen rolled over in bed with a quiet "hmph", facing her back to him.
Hieronymous was silent for a long while. She wondered if he had fallen asleep, but was startled to hear him speak.
"...I did not feel like myself last night," he started, eyes starring fixed out of the window. "I am not particularly certain how I ended up calling for you."
Gwen shrugged, her back still turned to him, "You could have called anybody. Why me?"
"I do not know why it was you..." he said, choosing his words carefully, "but, I am glad that it was."
"Me too," Gwen said, smiling to herself.