Moria let out a long breath as she felt the mana in her surroundings rise to abnormally high levels. A moment later Aperio appeared next to her, wreathed in magic that was tinged by a level of anger and death she had not seen in a long time. In times like these, she was thankful that Aperio had taught her how to actually see mana so long ago.
Without saying a word, Moria handed over the reason she had missed the first time the All-Mother had reached out, as well as the source of her own anger – a letter. If it had only been herself, she would have likely not been able to deal with the issue quietly, but if Aperio could help her…
"Are they stupid?" the All-Mother asked, taking her eyes off of the letter and handing it back. "Did they think I would simply let this happen?"
"They likely thought you would not know," Moria replied with a shrug. "And they would have been right had you not reached out to me just now."
Aperio hesitated for a moment, then raised her hand only to lower it again. The mana that clung to her shifted, losing some of the anger that had been so prevalent before and replacing it with sorrow. "You would not have asked for my help?"
"Likely not, no." Moria knew her words would hurt Aperio, but she also knew that both the old and new All-Mother valued honesty highly. "I do not know where we stand, and would not want to impose on you."
"I am always willing to help you," Aperio replied with slightly furrowed brows. After a moment of silence she offered the letter to Moria again. "Especially when it concerns family. All you have to do is ask."
"Asking the Creator of everything I know is not something done lightly," Moria replied and took the piece of parchment back. "But if you are willing to help me, I will gladly take it. I… would not be able to do this quietly."
The All-Mother tilted her head slightly at the words, her wings twitching. Moria did not know what exactly it meant, but she felt like it might be annoyance. When Aperio spoke again, her voice was cold and measured, the mana it carried not only delivering its usual echo but also a certainty of death to come. "This should not be done quietly. They are trying to take your daughter."
Somehow, Aperio appeared to be even taller than usual, and despite wearing no armor and carrying no weapon she looked ready to fight. Others might have assumed that it was simply the All-Mother's aura influencing the mind, but Moria knew otherwise. Aperio had made it very clear to her in the past that, while she could influence someone's mind, the effort had to be a conscious one – something that would be noticed. Her emotions still influence us all, though…
"If I did not do it quietly, it would have been the last thing I did in this life."
Aperio balled her hands into fists at the words, the muscles beneath her skin visibly tensing. As a few strands of inky strands of black swirled around her, she closed her eyes and relaxed her hands again with what appeared to be deliberate effort.
"Does Solito need the [Ancestral Guard]?" she asked as various pieces of armour began to slowly appear — to grow — over her shoulders, chest, and the sides of her hips. "It most certainly sounds like they do not need this version of it."
Moria shook her head at the words. While Aperio was most definitely right, simply wiping the [Ancestral Guard] out like that was not an option. The All-Mother's word could do a lot, but some procedures would still have to be followed.. "How about we get my daughter first?"
A wave of the All-Mother's hand was the only reply, but it was enough. A mere moment later, a very confused-looking Neria appeared on the floor. Her eyes darted around, and lingeringed on Aperio for a brief moment. Then she spotted her mother, and Neria leapt to her feet and essentially threw herself at Moria.
The older Beastkin caught her daughter, raising a hand to forestall Aperio's forward movement. She might just be a mortal, but a hug from her daughter would not injure her.
This was not how she had planned to meet her daughter again, but it was leagues better than having her held captive by the [Ancestral Guard]. The letter she had intercepted had explicitly stated that her daughter had been placed on house arrest until Moria herself had been found, and she knew that they knew that she would somehow figure that out and would come to get her daughter back. But they did not plan for Aperio's help?
That would be more than a little surprising, considering that Aperio had visited them and they knew that her daughter had had contact with the All-Mother. And they were always suspicious of me and my lack of faith in Chellien… She shook her head slightly and held Neria a little bit tighter.
"Where were you?" her daughter asked as she pulled herself back slightly. "Why did you leave?" Neria then turned to look at Aperio. "And why does she know you?"
The All-Mother took a step back, the inky blackness that had swirled around her before now shrouding her and causing her to fade into the shadows of the room. It seemed as though she did not want to disturb the family reunion.
"I had to take care of a few things," Moria said. "And you needed to figure out what you were meant to do."
"And leaving was the right choice for that? Really?" Neria let go of her mother, taking a few steps back. She balled her hands into fists and directed her eyes at the floor. "I thought you had been taken from us; spent years searching for you."
"And I am sorry for that," Moria said with a sigh. "But it needed to happen. I could not stay, and you could not know where I went or that I disappeared on my own volition."
"Why?" The single syllable echoed through the room, filling every corner despite being nothing more than a whisper.
"Because I am the [Keeper of Relicts]," Moria replied. "And the current leadership of the [Ancestral Guard] wishes to use the weapons I guard for their own purposes."
"Is that why they were so… weird about me wanting to leave again after my initial missions?"
Moria did not reply, instead simply handing Neria the letter she and Aperio had both read.
Aperio let more of her Void flow around her as Neria read the letter. She did not like the idea of Neria questioning the relationship she had with her mother, nor did she want to stand in the way of this reunion.
Finding Neria had unpleasantly required her to use more of her aura than she was comfortable with, but her actions had been, in her opinion, warranted. Though the letter had only said that Neria had been placed under 'house arrest' in the main building of the [Ancestral Guard], Aperio disliked the idea of anyone being held captive. Like they did with that cat-eared one…
She would have to ask Mayeia how that one was doing one of these days, but for now she had another set of idiotic mortals to take care of. It wouldn't take long until the other mortals of the [Ancestral Guard] would notice Neria's sudden absence.
Or would they? Aperio asked herself as she let her mind wander back to Neria's room. A small flex of her mental muscles caused some of her mana to flow from her well and into the physical realm, while another thought caused it to twist and turn slightly. After a few more moments, a fuzzy recreation of Neria appeared in the room, lying in her bed. It was not perfect — or even good — but it was the best Aperio could manage at the moment.
The All-Mother narrowed her eyes slightly as she tried and failed to make the magical apparition more accurate .She had no problem giving herself the armour that adorned her now, nor did she struggle with fixing her dress, but a projection of a living being was something that did not seem to want to work correctly. Bending the light to her will was a little harder than she had initially assumed. Still, it should be enough to at least fool anyone who merely glanced into the room.
"So they wanted to use me to lure you back?" Neria asked, lowering the letter. "What exactly are these Relicts you hold?"
"Weapons, armour, and other things the guard used during its prime," Moria replied. Her eyes wandered to Aperio, her shoulders slumping slightly as the All-Mother drew some more of her Void around her. "And some things that had been gifted to us by Chellien and Aperio."
I gifted them something? Aperio wondered. A weapon? Her mental question was answered almost immediately in the form of a dagger featuring the same black blade with blue edges as her swordstaff appearing in Moria’s hand. The hilt itself also featured runes similar to those on the shaft of her own weapon, and further inspection revealed that it was made from the same material. Why did I give her that?
"This," Moria said, raising the dagger, her eyes wandering briefly towards the All-Mother, "was given to me by Aperio long ago. A gift for our family and a sign of her support." She flipped the weapon in her hand, offering the hilt to her daughter. "I suppose it is only right for you to have it now."
Neria took the dagger, almost dropping it as she did not compensate for the likely considerable weight of it. Before she could speak, Moria held up her hand and produced another item. "This was made by Chellien," she said as a small pearl appeared in her hand. It had no single colour, constantly shifting between all hues but blue. "A piece of himself, so that he can stay with us even in death."
"Isn't that black pearl a piece of him? At the trials?" Neria asked as she looked at the sphere in her mother's hand.
"No," Aperio replied. "It contains some of his essence, yes, but it is a machine that utilizes that essence. Not an actual piece of Chellien."
The All-Mother blinked at her own words. She had answered so confidently, despite the knowledge of what she had said not actually being something she recalled having. She frowned slightly at the new memories that had simply appeared in her mind. Was it because she saw the weapon and the pearl Moria had brought out? But if that was the case, why did the memories just… appear? Every other piece of information she could recall from her past life had usually made itself known before she could recall it so clearly.
"Oh," Neria said as she lowered her head slightly. "I am sorry."
"What for?" the All-Mother asked, tilting her head. "You could not have known that." I did not know that until just now… Aperio's wings twitched slightly in annoyance at her inability to figure out this new way knowledge crept into her mind. "Nor is it bad that you did not know."
Neria gave a hesitant nod and returned her attention back to her mother. "That does not explain why you left me, however." Her voice was not quite as hostile as it had been before, almost as if the reminder of Aperio's presence caused her anger to falter.
"If I had not left," Moria began, "they would have forced me to help them establish their 'new order' and used you as a pawn to pressure me. When I left, that option disappeared and they could not really keep you without everyone else knowing something was going on.
"After you joined them," she continued after a moment of silence, "I had hoped that you could somehow change them, but it seems like I was wrong."She sighed, gesturing towards the letter her daughter still held. "I had also planned to reveal myself again once you had established yourself, but then this happened."
Neria did not reply, simply opening and closing her mouth as her eyes wandered between her mother and Aperio. She continued this for a moment longer before she finally shook her head. "Fine," she said, focusing on her mother. "We will talk about this later. Alone."
"You two can talk now," Aperio said as she fully stepped out of the black nothing she had drawn in from her Void. "I can take care of the guard just fine." She held up her hand to stop any potential protest from either of the Beastkin. "Pushing this conversation aside because, for some reason I do not quite understand, you wish to help me and forget the anger you feel, is not a good choice. Trust me." I made that mistake.
"What do you intend to do?" Moria asked, seemingly not willing to fight the All-Mother on the matter. "I doubt you know everyone who is involved."
"I do not, no," Aperio replied. "But I am sure they will be willing to talk once I take the relict that gives them their power." And maybe intimidate the other Keepers a little.
"Could I ask you to wait? Just a little."
The All-Mother narrowed her eyes slightly but nodded nonetheless. "I will investigate on my own while I wait."
With those words Aperio twisted reality apart to appear in Foderys, near the cafe she had visited with Caethya. She reached out to her love, asking her if she wanted to join; as well as to Ferio, telling her what she was doing. Her love was the first to respond, rapidly agreeing to help Aperio figure out what was going on with the [Ancestral Guard] while she waited for Moria.
The Goddess of Life and Light, on the other hand, simply wished her mother good luck on the mission and told her that she would continue to take care of the mortals that were now without a country. Aperio hesitated at the reply, not quite sure if Ferio was actually fine with this or being uppity again.
In the end, it did not matter. She had given her daughter the opportunity to join them and she had declined. That was her choice.
She let out a sigh and held out her hand, a small flex of her mental muscles bending reality apart again to allow Caethya to appear beside her. The Demigoddess took her offered hand and gave her a smile. "Shall we?"