“Ngh...” when Aelene woke up she was disoriented and her entire body felt like it was burning. She opened her eyes, but a sharp pain shot through them and she immediately closed them again. “Ah! What is going on...?”
“Aelene!” she heard a man say and recognized the voice. “It’s good to finally see you awake, how are you?”
“Oryn...?” she said and carefully tried to pry her eyes open, struggling through the pain. Through squinted eyes she could vaguely make out she was in her room, lying on her bed, with Oryn sitting on a chair by her side. “My entire body hurts... What happened?”
The last thing she remembered was lying in Oryn’s room, crying out in pain, after the water source had been destroyed. She didn’t know how much time had passed or how she had gotten here. As she opened her eyes a little more, she could see a white mist around Oryn.
“What... what is that!?”
“You have it as well,” he said with an amused chuckle. “And much more than me...”
Aelene looked down at her hands and noticed they were emitting the same mist, but in considerable larger quantities. “What is this, Oryn!?” she snapped at him.
“You’ve become like the boy and the girl,” Oryn said. “This energy, that’s what allows them to use scripture sigils on themselves. When the water source was destroyed, you received the same ability. Actually... that’s not quite accurate. You appear to be much stronger than them. The other priests believe you to be an angel, sent by the gods.”
Aelene looked at him with a stunned expression, barely able to comprehend what he was saying. She sat up and checked her body. To herself, she didn’t look any different, aside from the mist. She also didn’t feel much different, aside from the pain. She looked over to Oryn again, comparing the amounts of energy the two were giving off. “Why do I have so much more...?”
“I don’t know. Maybe not all people are destined to become divine beings...” Oryn said with a sad expression.
Aelene was still confused, but she was slowly coming out of her daze. “Wait, what does this mean!? The boy and the girl were going to be executed! And before that, you... You!” she said and grabbed him by the collar. ”Oryn, if you experimented on me while I was... I swear to you, I—”
“Hey, wait! I didn’t do anything. I promise! I was only waiting for you to wake up. You were asleep for an entire day, I was worried you wouldn’t wake up at all. And nobody else was able to stay around you for long, that’s why—”
“What? Why can’t others be around me?” Aelene asked, interrupting Oryn.
“Well, you know how Mr. Remor and Ms. Fera were said to appear like beasts to people? I believe that was because of this energy. But you... You don’t feel like a beast to others, you feel almost like a god. The High Priest himself confirmed it. I think people who possess this energy aren’t affected by each other though. I only see it, but I can’t feel it. That’s why I brought you here and stayed with you.”
“The High Priest...?” Aelene asked and fell into thought. She wondered what was going to happen to her. Her boss had been obsessed with getting his hands on the two fugitives, specifically because of this ability. And if Oryn was to be believed, she apparently had way more of this weird energy. She was scared, but her worries were quickly blown away by what Oryn said next.
“He wants to announce that you have been chosen as a divine messenger, ‘sent by the gods to help us bring prosperity to the citizens of Alarna,‘ as he says. You really are going to become an angel,” Oryn said with a wide smile.
Aelene was stupefied. Apparently her life wasn’t in danger. Instead, she was supposed to get paraded around for the sake of the temple, an embodiment of the will of the gods. She could understand why the High Priest would want to take advantage of a miracle. However, the way she saw it, this had just been a mistake. An accident. She wasn’t a divine anything.
“But... I’m neither of these things! This just happened because of your stupid experiment! Can’t you reverse it?”
Now it was Oryn’s turn to look at her in shock. “What are you talking about? Why would you want to reverse it? I would give everything to be in your position! You can use the scripture!”
“I don’t care about the scripture, Oryn! I care about my life! Oh no... what about my family!? How bad is this energy for others? Can I still see my parents!?” she said in panic.
“Please calm down, Aelene! I’m sure everything will be fine! I don’t have all the answers yet, but we’ll figure it out!” Oryn said, holding her by her shoulders. “For now, we should report to the High Priest. He’s really looking forward to talking to you.”
Aelene thought his suggestion over for a moment, but she came to the conclusion that she didn’t have any other choice but to accept it. Nothing would come from staying in bed, and she wanted to hear from the High Priest himself what exactly his intentions were.
Oryn helped her up and they slowly walked over to the door. When they opened it, they were greeted by a dozen priests, kneeling in the hallway, praying. Aele looked surprised at the display, but not as surprised as the kneeling priests, who opened their eyes when they felt Aelene’s energy. The blood drained from their faces and they quickly got out of the way, creating a path between them, while they cowered on the floor.
The two made their way down the hallway. Shortly after they had passed the other priests, they got up and started following them in a safe distance. Aelene glanced back at them with uncertain eyes. “I hate this already...”
If everything went according to plan, we would arrive in Cerus by tomorrow, in the late afternoon. Walking on even a dirt road definitely made for a more pleasant traveling experience than trudging through the woods.
We had paused the black stones experiments for the time being last night, because we didn’t have a lot of them left. We had executed the script one more time and observed the effect intently, but we still didn’t know what it was. The colored flakes appeared to pass through anything, including the branch I had carefully held under them. The flakes didn’t react in any way and kept falling unhindered. I didn’t dare touch them myself, however, a decision even Miles agreed with.
“How likely is it that these flakes are doing nothing?” I asked Miles while Berla, Riala, and I were walking along the road. “That can’t be, right? Maybe they would do something under different circumstances. Or maybe with a different script.”
‘It’s hard to say when you have absolutely no idea what that effect is exactly. It could very well be nothing. Or... maybe everything?’ Miles said and fell into thought. I forwarded what we were talking about to Berla and Riala, so they wouldn’t feel left out.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked in confusion.
‘Just a hypothesis. These flakes took on every color imaginable, and the way the script executed was weird. It ran way longer than expected. What if... no, I don’t even really have a what if. It’s just a feeling.’
“Are you somehow becoming less certain about how things work in this world?” I said ironically.
‘Heh, I guess. In a way. Maybe we can get our hands on more black stones in Cerus, so we can do more experiments.’
I was excited to see a different town for the first time in my life. I had read a little bit about Cerus in the past, but the books you could get in Alarna really focused on life around my former hometown. From out here, life back in town felt very isolated. We might’ve thought about the outside world, but very few people ever went there. The constant fear of beasts and the unknown really held us back. Being able to just go wherever you wanted was an incredible feeling. A dream started to take hold in me as we were walking down the road to Cerus, on a nice summer day, under a blue sky. I wanted others to be able to experience this feeling as well. I didn’t know how we would do that, or if it would even be possible, but I guess that’s the whole point of a “dream.” Before I could think any more about that, we would have to get through the next two days. Arrive in Cerus, settle in, and not get caught or murdered.
“So...” Berla said. “You want to rest in Cerus, right? If you have enough capital, you can probably stay there for a few days, but what comes after that?”
“That depends on what we encounter there,” I said.
She seemed to pick up on what I was implying, but didn’t say anything. My master plan had been that she would come to like us after we had saved her life, and because of that, she would not sell us out to the first guard we encountered in Cerus. Over the past two days I came to realize more and more how naive this had been, through Miles’ admonishments and Berlas behaviorism and utterances. One minute she was happily playing with Riala or joking around with me and Miles, and the next she would become somber. Quiet and contemplative. Would she truly become attached to us after just a few days? Would she really think that we saved her life if she’s considering it to be over already? Would she put us above her original mission? Am I starting to regret my decision?
However, I still wanted to believe that her desire to stay alive would be greater than her wish to see us go back to a prison cell in Alarna, where we would be tortured for our knowledge and eventually killed. By her own account, she wouldn’t be able to become a citizen in any towns around these parts. To the best of my knowledge there also weren’t any ways to earn enough money without a proper job, and she wouldn’t be able to survive alone out here either. As far as I could tell, coming with us was her best bet. She didn’t respond to my prompt though and instead kept walking in silence.
Two shadows were hiding in the woods, watching Tomar, Riala, and Berla travel towards Cerus. They did their best to stay hidden, but they were uncertain whether this was actually working.
“Do you think she noticed us?” Reurig asked.
“I doubt it. We’re downwind and she seems distracted,” Nier said.
The two of them kept moving, always staying a few meters behind the group. Reurig and Nier had left Alarna after the soldiers, but they had still been surprised when instead of the small army, they had encountered the fugitives first.
“So it’s three against two now. The odds aren’t exactly improving. And you’ve seen those trees... I don’t even want to know what they did there. Are you still eager to try and capture them?” Reurig asked.
“The two children we could’ve surprised, but Berla is certainly an issue. I don’t understand why she’s even with them.”
“Seriously? You really don’t? Look at that young, one-legged woman and tell me you don’t understand.”
“Reurig, I’ve had about enough of your antics. You know the laws! She knows the laws! And what is she going to do exactly? Play house out in the woods with some kids?”
“That’s just it! Look at them, these are kids! And they’re surviving out here! They should’ve been dead days ago, but they don’t even have a scratch on them!”
Nier stopped and looked at his friend. “I really don’t like where this is going. Please don’t say anything stupid, Reurig.”
The two of them stared at each other, ready to act at a moment’s notice, but when neither did anything, Nier ushered Reurig along. “Let’s go. We shouldn’t lose them.”
Reurig followed him wordlessly.