It was impossible to tell distance or time, but at least everyone was conscious this time. Although only notionally, in Kamarni’s case, the black water seeming to have knocked him into a daze. It was better than listening to him complain, at least. She settled in for the ride, trying to make herself comfortable, and checking her gear for damage – a few nicks on her blade, but nothing that wouldn’t come out. Getting back into armour would be a relief as well - solid steel gave far better protection than fabric, no matter how ornate.
She glanced over at Janaxia, something bothering her, trying to figure out what it was. Her gaze wandered over Janaxia’s body, as she cleaned off minute traces of dirt with magic, her lash of hair glowing faintly. She noticed she was being examined and looked up, blowing a handful of dust into the dark abyss surrounding them, her gaze questioning.
Stathis realised what was missing. ‘Where’s your book? Isn’t that thing the source of your powers?’
Janaxia looked around in surprise, running hands around her waist as though expecting it to be there. ‘How irksome. I must have misplaced it somewhere.’
‘Shouldn’t you be worried? It seems fairly powerful, couldn’t someone steal it or something?’ Or pick it up and end up corrupted or broken.
‘I suppose.’ She shrugged, seemingly unconcerned that an eldritch artefact of presumptively immense power had been forgotten somewhere. She settled into a meditative position, then started to bend her fingers through firstly painful-looking, then flat-out impossible positions, unless she’d broken all of her fingers in advance. Sharp-edged words cut the air, doing little for Stathis’ headache. A wind rustled through the vast space, overly warm and bearing some strange scent, of leather and ink and fire, more of the non-words whispering in the darkness, fading before they could be recalled.
A crimson light appeared on the raft in front of her, a single dot expanding into a circle, then starting to fill itself in with a delicate tracery of light, forming into some massively complicated fractal of runes, more detail than was possible to perceive. Stathis began to feel nauseous, as though something was eroding the very world, a sense of wrongness gnawing away at the roots of the world. Above the glyph, a solid shape began to materialise, a translucent shadow of Janaxia’s book, thin trails of ethereal light being pulled up from beneath them, power being drawn from the very essence of the world.
Janaxia looked up, seemingly unconcerned about the grotesque violation of natural and magical laws she was perpetuating, her hair now burning crimson, bright enough to make it seem as though they were sailing on an ocean of blood. Even without her participation, the chanting continued, her fingers still flickering through arcane symbols as she spoke. ‘Are you alright? You look a trifle green.’
‘I’m sure it’ll pass.’ Once Janaxia stopped summoning eldritch artefacts of dubious provenance.
‘You did overindulge somewhat last night. Although your singing was rather impressive. I didn’t know you had such skills.’
Stathis groaned. She definitely didn’t remember any singing, at least not that she’d been involved in.
Janaxia continued to talk, raising her voice slightly to be heard above the background wailing and chanting. ‘Perhaps a move to Redcastle, where your talents could best be utilised? I hear they are having some minor problems, and my family has a house there. It would certainly be nice, I feel, to have somewhere to stay that isn’t a tavern or,’ she shuddered, ‘a pub, or by the open road, like a common mendicant.’
The sounds coming from the magic circle were intensifying, a screeching cacophony of agony, only vague salvation that it vanished from recollection moment by moment, an endlessly fresh torment. ‘That’s up by the Breakspires, isn’t it? I’ve heard there’s been some demonic stuff that way, that’s actually a good idea.’
Parth interrupted from the other side of the raft. ‘Savings.’
The sounds were drilling into her soul, and she could feel part of her spirit trying to rise up, to come forth and vanquish the abomination. She suppressed it, hoping that it wouldn’t force itself out into the world in a blaze of purifying glory. Janaxia might be vain, self-absorbed and with a bizarre tendency to flirt with things that saw her as food, but, despite registering as an utter abomination against all that should be, she wasn’t particularly evil.
‘Yes, that.’ Trying to deal with this normally would be hard enough, but with a hangover and a lack of food it was crippling. The book was slowly but steadily coalescing into physical form, gem-studded cover starting to shape itself from crimson light. ‘Semari, you up for Redcastle?’
Semari rolled over, somehow managing to shrug despite being sprawled on her back. ‘Sure, sounds good.’ She yawned, opening her eyes and jumping to her feet. ‘Hey, eldritch stuff!’ She poked a finger through the still forming book, the backing choir of infernal voices stuttering for a moment, nails on a hellish chalkboard.
‘This is a highly precise ritual, and I would thank you not to interrupt!’ Each time Semari poked the still-forming tome, it fragmented the background noise, making it even harder to bear when it resumed. Semari stuck her tongue out. ‘Fine. If any hell-monsters show up, you can deal with them!’ She flopped to the floor again, seemingly happy to resume her slumber.
Janaxia spoke again. ‘And of course, Redcastle does have quite the social season. Although the demons may have had a certain detrimental impact, I suppose. But I’m sure that enough will brave the journey, or already be there, to make it a worthwhile journey.’
Despite her lack of divinatory powers, Stathis had a sudden glimpse of the future, and that it involved Janaxia gaining control of her wardrobe. She shuddered, trying to focus through the assault on her senses and soul. ‘I think maybe the demons should be a priority? Before they murder everyone?’
Janaxia waved a hand negligently, fingers still shifting through impossible configurations. ‘I’m sure such matters can be resolved. But there will be dances to attend, and those of an appropriate social class to meet!’ She very pointedly excluded Parth and Semari from their social grouping. ‘And maybe that angel will appear again.’
Stathis focused through the pain. ‘Angel?’
‘My saviour, when we discovered the Dragon’s Veil.’ She clasped her hands together, as though praying, treating Stathis to the ghostly sight of her fingers phasing through her hands, as they continued to twist and twine into impossible positions. ‘When that beast was devouring my essence, when I was at the very edge of death, a light came down from the heavens – you must have seen it! Some strong, vital essence pulled me back from the very brink of death, a light preserving me from the final darkness.’
Semari snickered, but shut up when Stathis glared at her. ‘I’m sure that was just brought on by the shock. Being spiritually devoured by a ghost-dragon-wizard-thing is bound to have some weird effects.’
Janaxia shook her head. ‘Oh no, I remember, quite vividly. A presence, bright and warm, saving me from the cold darkness! Strong, and passionate!’
If the backing harmonics of the book being recreated weren’t sapping Stathis’ will to live, it might have been awkward, instead it was mostly just painful. Something else to try to avoid ever mentioning, ever again. Was Janaxia somehow unaware that she was, strictly speaking, an abomination against all that existed?
‘It was all rather busy, so I don’t remember anything unusual. Just the normal sort of thing; undead dragon monster, the collapse of an ancient dungeon, and then we managed to escape without dying, carrying you to the surface. I don’t think there was any angel involved, we would have noticed. Isn’t that right, Parth?’
That wasn’t helpful, but was better than being directly outed as a mildly angelic saviour. Then Stathis made the mistake of looking over the edge of the raft, into the blood-red abyss over which they sailed. In the depthless void, somewhere beneath them, a red disc gleamed, then suddenly blinked out, returning a split second later. Next to it, another appeared, then another, and another, all blinking in and out in random patterns, before they started to grow, something moving towards them, following the lines of magical energy trailing towards Janaxia’s book, the water starting to seethe and hiss.
They were getting larger, fast – between them could be seen glimpses of some vast, hulking body, scales and tentacles stirring the water into a welter, drawn by whatever Janaxia was doing. Stathis swore and spun, plunging her sword into the rune, disrupting the ritual. The book thudded to the raft, only half-formed, misshapen and incomplete, crimson light flicking out, infernal chanting snapping silent. Janaxia made a choking noise, body twitching, eyes rolling back in her head.
‘Can you move this thing faster? Something’s just woken up beneath us, and I don’t think it’s happy.’ Hopefully Janaxia would be OK once she woke up, but they were in no shape to fight anything that large, even on land.
The ferryman didn’t bother with any melodrama, glancing over the edge of the raft, and immediately making it surge forward, at least to judge by the waves forming behind them. Somewhere behind them, something broke the surface, the sounds of violent churning and thrashing, a red glow spreading across the abyssal ocean.
They readied themselves for combat, Parth nocking an arrow, nerves tense as they moved through the darkness, the sound and light fading behind them. Stathis moved to Janaxia, her body splayed in an unnatural position, fingers frozen in a painful looking configuration, and checked her for injuries, or at least physical ones. She seemed fine, although her entire body was tense, resisting any attempts to move her into a more comfortable position. The book sat by her, warped and misshapen – Stathis moved it to be touching Janaxia’s hand, in case it helped.
Sometime later, the shore came back into sight, the dock they had left what felt weeks ago, but had probably only been a day or two. Janaxia stirred, slowly wakening, her limbs cracking as she moved into a more comfortable position, pulling herself into a sitting position.
‘Are you OK? Your summoning was calling some giant monster.’
It was rather rude of you to disrupt it so abruptly.
Janaxia’s lips moved but without sound, her voice sounding within Stathis’ head. She stared at Janaxia, unsure how to react.
Ah, we’re almost back. It will be a relief to
Her voice suddenly went silent as they reached the dock, slight chill of the magical annulment settling upon them.