Chapter 25 - Moments
The faint blush of pre-dawn started to colour the blanket of night, blunting the sparkle of stars that graced the heavens. Selera glanced to the horizon as she slowed to a stop at the edge of a dune. The unnerving sensation of the sand shifting and letting her weight settle in further then it should. The chill air made her shiver as a faint breath of a breeze skimmed the dunes, the sweat on her brow and soaking her clothes losing its heat rapidly. Even now she could feel the currents of the breeze changing, foretelling the coming of day.
Martyn’s hand rested on her shoulder, she could only nod in exhaustion, following his gesture toward the base of the dune as it arced in a crescent. The charted oasis dwelled in the shadow of the sands below. An expanse of palms, harsh grasses and a few remnants of a long forgotten village that was slowly being scoured from existence by the sands of time. She moved to continue but felt another tap. She turned to face him, his features unperturbed and lacking any semblance of tiredness from the dusk to dawn trek through the dunes. His golden eyes rested on her.
Selera stared at him, any rebellion at his offer failing to materialise.
“Selera, your pack. If you fall it will be a long way to the bottom.”
She nodded, her thoughts slow. She barely recognised his low chuckle as she swayed slightly. Without protest she felt him release the straps and a sense of relief washed through her as her world lightened. She felt a flask being pressed into her hand, softer and slender hands touching her face, checking her.
Hima glanced at Martyn and raised an eyebrow, before turning her attention back to Selera.
“Drink, just a little. You need to be alert for the descent. After a sip we will rest for a few moments here.” said Hima gently, nodding as Selera took a small mouthful.
She looked to Martyn, “She is spent, she must not have slept.”
He looked at the steadily building glow on the horizon, “No, she is not accustomed to walking the sands.” he glanced down the valley, “The first shimmer on the horizon, we can wait no longer.”
“Wha-what is this?” Selera mumbled, holding the flask.
Hima smiled, “A light restorative, not much more than water. But enough to refresh you for a short while without stopping you from sleeping.”
Selera squinted and shook her head, “Can I have a little more?”
“You may, just a sip.” Hima said, her eyes on Selera while she took another small mouthful.
She nodded as Selera returned the flask, looking over at Martyn as he faced the start of false dawn with a slight look of concern on his face.
“Selera, how are your legs?”
“Better than a few moments ago.” she said, noticing Martyn and Hima’s shared look.
“Good, we will keep moving just slower.” he said, shouldering Selera’s pack.
As the fiery colours of dawn crept higher into the darkened sky they descended, every step a slide along the side of the dune. Within half an hour they had reached the base of the valley, the sun already starting to cast its light across the dunes, creating sharp scallops of shade and distinct waves of sand. The oasis was still in the darkness cast by the towering dune behind them. The air was still crisp from the night, but the flood of heat that was to come with the onset of day would only allow them a short while to shelter from the burning sun and its reflection off the sands.
Walking through the hardy sword grasses and woody brush of the outskirts of the oasis, Selera stumbled and fell to her knees. Hima stopped and helped her to her feet, looking back to Martyn and shaking her head.
Selera stood stubbornly, exhaustion finally having its way with her as the toll of the past week came due. Without complaint, she felt Hima lift her arm over her shoulder and with the faintest breath of surprise her feet left the sands, the gold-haired woman lifting and settling her in her arms. Looking over Hima’s shoulder she vaguely noticed Martyn taking hold of Hima’s discarded pack before she closed her eyes, her lids refusing to stay open.
Savouring the velvet darkness and the feeling of rest in her limbs, she could faintly hear voices. Martyn seemed to be talking as if discussing something important, but there was no response, no matter how hard she tried she could not understand what he was saying. Occasionally Hima would respond, though she found the discussion puzzling at best. Had they come across another taking refuge at the oasis?
“She wakes.” said Hima, her voice low.
“How long have I…”
“It is just after midday.” Martyn said, watching Selera drag herself into a sitting position against a crumbling wall.
She breathed in the warm air and looked up at the densely packed palms that surrounded them, shielding them from the sun.
“You need to eat.”
Selera nodded, taking the flatbread and jerky that Hima offered, “Thank you for before.”
Hima gave her a small smile, but did not respond.
“Lord Septye, there is something I just do not understand.”
He raised his eyebrows, sitting cross-legged and watching her intently, “About the device I have, why I would help you, or something else?”
Selera looked to him, a slight front on her brows, “If you have been nearby for the last…”
“Fortnight, then surely he would have felt the same as Sialin?”
Martyn glanced over at Hima, “Rhyker…He does, do not think that he likes what had to happen. It was a decision that was not made lightly.”
Selera bit into some bread, watching the silent interplay of Martyn and Hima, “But why six years?”
“To keep her safe.” Hima said, her golden eyes watching her, “Do not try and make trouble with him, Selera.”
Hima looked out at the gently swaying palms, “His partner is barely under control on the best of days, it would be wise to not cause conflict. She is rather possessive.”
Selera stared at her, “His partner in the order is possessive? But what about Sialin? They are…”
“When it is the right time, they will be reunited. Sometimes it is best to allow destiny to carve its course without being guided to an outcome.”
Selera frowned, “His partner, is she the cause why he can’t go to her?”
Hima smiled, shaking her head as she got to her feet, giving Selera a lingering glance before walking out from the shade and into the sunlight, her hair shimmering like it was on fire. The frown on Selera’s brow deepened.
She looked to Martyn, seeing his dark look, “Is she the cause? What does Lady Hima mean, that she is barely under control?”
“Sialin did not tell you, and some things are best left unsaid. Though I believe it is best you know before you meet her. His partner is Kitaraiya, she has an...” Martyn paused momentarily, “affliction. She feeds off him and him alone.”
“She feeds off him?” Selera whispered in disbelief.
“So far, it is the only way she is assured to keep her sanity.”
Selera watched him in disbelief, “Is she a vampyre?”
He shook his head slowly, watching Hima stand in the sunlight with her eyes closed for a moment.
“No, she is not, but heed Hima’s warning. Kit has already accepted Sialin as Rhyker’s partner.”
He held up a hand, halting her words, “She also pushed him a number of times to go to Sialin. Each and every time her intent proved wrong.”
Martyn shifted a little, moving to stand, “Eat, rest, we leave at dusk and before midnight we will meet with the rest of our party.”
Sialin slowly shifted in her bed. The gentle rock and sway of the anchored Northern Wolf almost lulling her back to sleep. She turned her head, opening her eyes slowly; the chair at her bedside was empty. After the discussion with Wrenna and Illias, Alletair had arrived and relayed the events of the past several days as she ate in the false dawn before the sun rose.
“What else did you find in your memories, Sialin?” he asked as he placed the empty tray on the side table.
She sighed, her eyes meeting his, “I know who you are Stormbringer. That is your secret to tell, not mine.”
Watching his nod, her eyes searching his face, “There is something else. Something you wish to say.”
He sighed deeply, “Do you think that maybe you were too harsh with her? That she would not have…”
“That she would not have used the device? Oh…You think she ran?” she stared at him, her eyes flickering to life in disbelief, “I do not have to validate my actions, Alletair. I acted as the moment dictated, not my finest moment, but a lesson that was earned. I offered her the easy way and she brought her thread to a dangerous point.”
She paused for a moment, the memory of the girl’s rage building, the deck freezing and the spears of ice forming among the rigging behind her, “I ask you, what would you have done if she brought her power to bear against you? So dangerously close to losing control as she let her anger have free reign. Would you have been ready to take a spear of ice to the chest, as she prepared for me and die as the shock of killing someone drives her out of her mind and unleashes that thread of hers on the crew? You of all people should know.”
Sialin looked at him, her eyes narrowing as he straightened defensively, “I do not take relish in speaking this way. But, why do you not tell the crew the truth? Why you were sacrificing the ship to a young girl.”
Alletair looked at her in alarm.
“Selera does not even know, does she? The excuses with the heat and all.”
“How did you…?” he replied quietly.
She glanced at him, “Alletair, I come from the mountains, where most of the year is ice and snow, where living trees rot out from ice freezing their hearts in the coldest of winters, and the timbers of houses have to be cared for. From a young age, my father would take me out into the mountains; teach me the ways of the forests and the mountain streams. Teaching me to recognise at a glance what trees, no matter how sturdy they appeared could not be trusted.”
Sialin placed a hand on his, “Tell me, how much longer were you going to let the girl rage? Repeatedly snap freezing the hull and decking in the blistering heat whenever she did not like something. Were you going to wait until the hull splintered apart under us and we capsized?”
He met her amber eyes as she stared back at him, the anger building in her chest, knowing where his train of thought was leading.
“You calmed Groyven’s, could you not have bent hers to your will?” he said, trying not to look at her.
“Could you?” she asked quietly, “Could Selera? I can control fire, but I did not bend his thread, I offered him unconditional love and he accepted, that is all. Many occasions since we arrived I offered the same to Tiff, but she never warmed to me, she always saw me as a threat. I can not calm one with my power when they are not receptive to it, anger of that nature I can not overcome. I can not force a child love me, but respect is another matter.”
She sipped slowly at some water, watching the conflict on his face.
“I hate to say it, but you leave me no choice. You both turned a blind eye to Tiff, Selera knows this, you know this. I might be an accepted part of the family but I am not kin. As an outsider it is not my place or responsibility to fix the bonds of blood. I have warned both of you many times, you and Selera have been failing in the responsibility of direct family and kin. All of this could have been avoided.”
“I am not saying I would have been successful, but Selera had turned down my offers to take them away from here. And now, they are gone. Because of our own negligence, mine included. They should never have been left in that cabin by themselves. We all bear that responsibility, our confidence in our superiority made us lax.”
Sialin watched him, “We never expected to have a weapon of the old world thrown against us.” he said.
“Alletair, I never took you for one to search so hard for excuses and I do not appreciate that I was your first point of reason. We have all made mistakes that led to this.” she said, her voice losing its bite.
“I can no longer stay here.” she said quietly, seeing him flinch slightly.
“Your willingness to place the blame at my feet has showed that you no longer trust me or my judgement. Your willing inaction over the past half a year placed your whole crew and me at risk; you are no longer my Captain, but you remain my friend, no matter how misguided your thoughts. From this moment I am no longer part of your crew, I am a paying passenger until we reach the next safe port, it does not matter where. I assure you I will not undermine your authority.”
He nodded slowly, wincing in defeat, “What will you do?”
“Do what you are unable to; find my Little Prince and Tiffaniel and help them. For now I will return to the Academy. Speak to my mother, hopefully before Groyven’s sigil grows cold. I know where I can get answers. Those answers will not be found here, sitting on a ship twiddling my thumbs.”
“Sialin, but the Crimson Demon?”
“Rhyker? What of him, Alletair? That is no longer your concern and never was. He will find me the moment it is right.”
Alletair looked at her, the conflict plain on his face, “You can’t just leave like this,”
“I can’t? You forget the women who shaped me, the women I made my name from. Odessia and Eira Lin. The family line that gave me a chance and took me in. Neither would back down, and neither would shy away from responsibility or their actions, as you have in the past and as you do now. I will not wait for a solution to fall into my lap, I will make my own.”
Sialin sat up as bright light shined in through the window, her legs no longer ached and the sensation of vertigo lessened to a degree. She still had the image of Alletair leaving the room defeated in the moments before sunrise in her thoughts. Trying his best to keep his eyes averted as Wrenna pushed past, shaking her head at him in disapproval. Standing slowly, she nodded to herself, give it a day and she would be well enough to leave. If they were still anchored she would disembark and teleport back to the Academy.
“Aye? Just on me way back as it were.” the half-elf said, coming through the door, “I’m still angry with Alletair. Illias told me what had happened between you and the girl, after that I gave the great fool a chewing out. Seems she was looking for a paddling, if she were a dwarven kid she would have got one at the first sign of lip.”
Sialin looked at her and gave a small smile, “It was not her words that drove me.”
“Aye, the threat. Illias told me of her natural power, a scary prospect in the hands of a little one. If a little one came at me with an axe and a glint of murder in their eye, I’d backhand them into the middle of next week. I don’t care how old you are; you level a weapon at me then face the responsibility of wielding it.”
Wrenna gave her a quick glance, “Why do you think she did it? Use that thing?”
Sialin spoke without hesitation, “Out of fear,” she met Wrenna’s eye, “What she did. Tiffaniel’s reasons to activate that device were born out of fear for Ven, to get him away from danger, no matter the cost. She did the only thing that she felt she could. Jump into the unknown to do what she thought best. I can not fault her.”
“I saw the fear in her eyes, the shock and her tears when she realised she could not stop it as she disappeared before me. The moment I find them, I will tell her she did the right thing and I will offer my hand to her again as I have many times before.”
Wrenna nodded in silence, watching Sialin as she shifted hesitantly to the drawers, still a little unsteady.
A low whistle came from the half-elf, “Aye, I can see why the Demon fell for you. You really are something different.”
Sialin smiled and glanced up to Wrenna, “Thank you.”
“Are you still set on leaving?”
“Hmmm…Maybe tonight. If my legs are a little more steady.” Sialin said as she pulled another pouch from a drawer and placed it on the bed.
“Feel like having a little company on your way, you are going to use that portal aren’t you?”
Sialin chuckled, “If you wish, how many?”
“Well. Me, me escort. I doubt Illias and Lili will be interested.”
She shrugged, a small smile on her lips. She gestured for Wrenna to come closer.
“Can you?” she asked, looking at the patch that covered Wrenna’s missing eye.
“Not now, pup. I’m heading to the end.” she said, raising her hands and removing the patch anyway, exposing the jagged scar that tore her face, “What’s the use?”
Sialin smiled, touching Wrenna’s face gently and making a shushing sound.
“I promised Wrenna. I even taught myself. How many years?” Sialin asked quietly, a faint glow building under her fingertips near Wrenna’s good eye.
“What do you mean, pup? How many? Me body’s grinding away, me sight’s going… No… my sight’s coming?” Wrenna said in surprise, looking the fyrelf in the eye.
Sialin chuckled softly, “Your mature prime? I am not taking you back to the way you were, just restoring what was lost, renewing you to the best you can be, who knows, you might even gain a decade or two.”
“You can do this?”
Sialin nodded slowly, running her fingertips over the skin surrounding the empty socket, her ethereal fire burning away the scars, “A woman of your calibre wants to go out in fire and fury, not wasting away.”
“Aye. Me greatest fear.” Wrenna whispered, tears rolling down her cheek, “But you are recovering, won’t this set you back?”
“I have help.” Sialin said, glancing at the pouch.
“More of them glowy vials?”
She nodded, “Aye, Wrenna. But much stronger, I can channel them at no cost to myself. Two should do. Now sit, I’ll get a mirror.”
She turned and stepped over to the wall. Seeing her face looking back at her, she turned and folded her ear forward, seeing the glimmer of Groyven’s sigil. The rounded trident within a circle, its familiarity bringing a smile to her face, the heat in her chest rising abruptly.
“Soon, my Dark Prince, soon.” she whispered, shaking her head as she brought the small mirror to Wrenna.
“By the bearded gods!” the half-elf whispered in shock.