Janaxia moved her mouth, forming words but no sound coming out, her expression growing increasingly frustrated as she tried to vocalise but couldn’t force any sound into being.
‘Is this because your ritual got disrupted?’
Janaxia gave her a furious glare, hands gesticulating.
‘If we get out of here, we might be able to find a healer or something. Whatever that thing was, it would have destroyed the raft and killed us all.’
The gestures she was making seemed to indicate that such an outcome might have been preferable, and that Stathis was personally and directly responsible for this turn of events. Which was somewhat true, but it had been Janaxia’s summoning of the book that had drawn whatever that thing had been.
Semari came over to investigate, having seen Janaxia’s flailing. She looked at her curiously for a moment, before poking her quite hard, just beneath the ribs. Janaxia’s whoosh of breath could be clearly heard, but as soon as she turned to remonstrate with Semari, no sound came out, despite her obvious irritation. Semari grinned, as Stathis stepped between them. ‘Semari, stop that. Something’s gone wrong, so she can’t talk at the moment. Once we get to the surface, we should be able to sort it out, but until then, we’ll need to keep an eye on her. There’s some dangerous stuff down here, and she can’t shout for help if anything goes wrong.’
Semari poked her again, Janaxia unable to protect herself against mundane attacks, hunching up in a vain attempt at defence, still scowling furiously. ‘Semari, leave her alone! Let’s just get this damn thing over with. Kamarni, you good? We’ll take you back to your manor, and then you can pay us.’ And then this damn thing would be over and done with, finally.
‘Thank you, yes.’ He was still a little dazed-sounding, but seemed to be relatively intact, considering everything he’d been through.
As soon as they were all off the raft, the ferryman saluted them, the raft immediately moving away at speed. Stathis sent Semari ahead to scout, and also to keep her from further harassing Janaxia, whose lips now compressed together into a tight line, managing to silently communicate frustration without saying a single word, her posture tense with anger.
The passage back upwards was swift, without having to be cautious in case of ambushes by anything other than beasts. Janaxia stayed close to Stathis, wary of getting ambushed without being able to call for aid, although several times her mouth began to move as she started to try to talk, before remembering, making gestures of frustration each time.
One of the scuttling monster beasts crawled out of the darkness, hissing at them, tentacles flailing. Janaxia flung her hand out, without effect. She frowned, repeating the action, still without the usual accompanying magical blast. While Janaxia struggled to achieve anything, Stathis and Semari set to work – now that Semari was sober, she had significantly more ability to dodge and evade the things tentacles, and the two of them were swiftly able to dispatch the foe without getting paralysed.
Janaxia was still attempting to cast magic, making increasingly expansive gestures, without any effect. If she could talk, Stathis imagined she’d be on the receiving end of quite a tirade. The silence effect shouldn’t be permanent, or at least most magic she’d seen before had been of temporary effect, at least when it hadn’t killed or maimed the caster. But Janaxia’s tongue was still physically intact, and she could make sound, just not words. Although without access to spells, she was going to be of limited use in any fights.
It was a relief to make it back into the uppermost sections of the tunnels, areas that were less hostile and potentially dangerous. Footsteps sounded close by, and everyone moved into the shadows, taking up ambush positions. A light shone from somewhere around the corner, Janaxia immediately dousing the torch she’d carried, the footsteps getting closer,
A hooded figure stepped around the corner and into sight, Stathis moving in behind them, and raising her sword to strike. They spun, a shortsword raising in their defence, hood falling back to reveal Carissia, her blue eyes bright in the darkness, burning with an inner flame. They stared at each other for a moment before both relaxing, at least out of attacking each other.
‘Stathis! How unexpected! And you seem to have found Baronet Kamarni?’
‘Yeah, long story, but managed to keep him alive. Why are you down here?’ Carissa was an adventurer, to be sure, but preferred eliminating dangerous monsters rather than poking around old catacombs, and normally had a cohort of companions with her as well.
Carissia tried to look innocent, doing a not-very-good job of it, at least for someone that had grown up with her, and had gotten in trouble for her doings far too often. ‘Kamarni’s disappearance raised quite the stir – his family are quite influential, and were most upset at his disappearance, so they asked for my help. It is, of course, somewhat unfortunate that the aura here means I cannot use divination magic and I had to investigate personally, but it appears you have resolved the situation already. Most impressive.’
Stathis nodded wearily, accepting the faint praise. ‘Yes, something like that.’
Carissia looked past her, seeing Janaxia, trying to step past Stathis to approach her. Stathis stepped to block her, glad that she was taller and bulkier than her sister, enough to stop her simply shoving past, at least not without appearing decidedly less elegant that she preferred. Janaxia probably wouldn’t appreciate have to interact in her current state, and, at this point, Stathis just wanted to get out into the open air without suffering through more weird flirtations.
‘Well, he’s safe now, we’ll get him back home, so you can leave.’ She stared down at Carissia, hoping she would, for once, just take the damn hint leave. This failed to happen, as Carissia reached up to gently brush dirt off Stathis’ shoulders, before stepping past and approaching Janaxia.
‘Lady Janaxia! How pleasant, and you seem to have managed to keep your style and deportment intact!’ Janaxia smiled at the compliment, but still looked somewhat uncomfortable, opening her mouth for a moment before remembering. Carissia frowned, as Stathis tried to explain.
‘It’s a magical curse or something, she can’t talk at the moment.’ Janaxia spread her arms wide, giving a graceful smile of apology and a curtsey. ‘We’re going to go get her patched up at the temple, at least once we’ve got paid.’
‘Oh, you poor thing!’ She gave Janaxia a hug. ‘Such a trial! Of course, should you wish some aid with remedying such a problem, I would be more than happy to lend my aid.’
‘I think she’ll be fine, Carissia. Unless there’s anything else, we’ll be leaving.’ At least once she could get Carissia and Janaxia detached, Janaxia already starting to redden and slip into a daze. As Janaxia melted away into a blissed-out puddle, Semari walked up and struck, a hand lancing out, three spread fingers poking into Carissia’s flank. Her body stiffened, giving Stathis the chance to retrieve Janaxia.
‘Semari! Don’t do weird paralysing attacks on people!’ No matter how convenient it might be. ‘Sorry, I guess it will wear off soon?’ As she shifted her grip on Janaxia, the shock seemed to wear off, motion returning to Carissia’s face. A momentary frown moved over her features, the loss of control clearly angering her before she regained control, accepting her defeat, although Stathis was probably in for an earful the next time they were alone, and heavens only knew what their Mother would be told.
‘Very well. I shall convey the good news to the Council. I’m sure the Baronet wishes to return home, as soon as possible.’
Her usual sense of serene dignity quickly reasserted itself as she left, no doubt wishing to spread the news as soon as possible, and no doubt claim some share of the credit.
Emerging from the tunnels back into the vast domed chamber was pleasant, but not quite so pleasant as when they left, back in the open sunlight, blue sky stretching above them. Stathis sighed and stretched, glad not to have countless tonnes of earth pressing down from above her, and glad that they’d exited during the day, rather than at night.
Ah, the sunlight is such a pleasure
Janaxia’s voice spoke inside her head. Stathis turned to look at Janaxia, who also looked relieved to be outside. She smiled back at Stathis, lips moving without making a sound.
I seem to have regained my voice. That is a relief, although it’s a shame that Lady Carissia left
Stathis spoke to Parth and Semari. ‘Can you two hear her, or is it just me?’
The three of them all turned to look at Janaxia, who stared back at them, looking confused.
Moving through the magic-repelling aura seems to have dispelled whatever magical effect repressed my voice
Stathis spoke. ‘You’re not speaking out loud, we can hear you in our minds. I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit creepy.’
I don’t know what you’re
Her words were cut off by Semari putting a hand over her mouth, as Parth spoke. ‘Talk.’
I don’t know what you mean, there’s nothing unusual about
Oh, that is strange
She must be able to hear herself as well, to judge by her reaction.
This is decidedly inconvenient! I trust that you will be aiding me to resolve this situation, as, after all, it is decidedly your fault
‘It was that or face some giant sea monster! But it is something that needs sorting out. Can you still cast spells?’
Janaxia pushed a hand towards Semari, fingers crooked, a word echoing through Stathis’ mind. A blob of energy appeared in her hand, moving towards Semari, and exploding with a soft puff of air on impact.
Janaxia tried again, with much the same effect, her scowl deepening.
‘Sorry, we’ll see what we can do to get you fixed.’
Apparently ‘angry sighs’ was within the range of sounds she could still make, as she crossed her arms and treated all of them to an angry glare, her hair now faded to a consistent and largely mundane mostly-black, the red slash now barely visible.
The route to Kamarni’s mansion was at least short, although they did get some odd looks, all of them except Janaxia wearing fancy clothing that was obviously battleworn, bloodstained and damaged. At this point, Stathis didn’t care, just wanting to get it done with.
They were greeted by an immaculately dressed maid, who curtseyed and led them inside, to his study. Judging by the wealth and ornamentation on display, the family wasn’t doing too badly, or was coasting on past success. A tight-faced elderly servant received them, taking receipt of his master, before Parth handing over her assorted receipts, softly negotiating repayment, as least as much as her speech patterns enabled any form of discussion to happen. Finally, a cashbox was bought out with all the pomp and ritual of a minor holy artefact, unlocked and money handed over, a healthy profit, despite the considerable inconvenience it had been.
He must have been glad to get back, as he paid them back swiftly, not even haggling over some of the extra costs that were piled on, even the ones that were clearly less than entirely legitimate. As Janaxia wasn’t at immediate risk, they went back to rest and sleep first, her angry gesticulations surprisingly easy to ignore.