Book II - Chapter 45

Chapter 45

 

[Eveth]

 

 

“Wake up.”

Eveth opened her eyes to a pounding headache of blood in her ears, a terrible throbbing in her arms, and… was that drool on her cheek?

Lords, did her head hurt.

“Awaken, Eveth.” The voice spoke again.

Eveth thought she’d heard words, but for some reason she couldn’t determine the direction they’d come from. Not that she could really determine much of anything in the pitch black around her.

“What?” Her body wasn’t cooperating. It seemed that the best she could do was try and sit up, to move away from the uncomfortable feeling of dampness on her cheek. The effort was exhausting. “What happened to me?”

“You took a bit of a nap.” On her left hand, something moved, cool to the touch. The uncomfortable pressure behind her eyes seemed to lessen as it did, along with what felt like a slow trickle of calm. Every beat in her chest brought it further along.

She blinked, vision still disorienting. “Where am I?”

It disturbed her enough just to need to ask those, but Eveth felt dizzy. Where had she been, how had she gotten here? It was jumbled at best, still rearranging in her throbbing skull.

“We’re in your study. You haven’t gone anywhere.”

“My study?” Though she was almost completely blind in the dark, and it felt like her head was on a swivel, Eveth could see a faint glow of several familiar crystal shapes scattered around on shelves. Most of them were still where she remembered them to be, barely enough for human eyes to normally make do, but more than what was needed for Eveth to recognize a familiar place. It was true then, and safe to assume they really were in her study. She somewhat remembered, but it was all jumbled. Memories of the Guild, of... “Oh Light, the Guild.”

“Yeah… I was hoping we could talk about that in a few minutes.”

“How long have I been out?” For a second, panic had started to rise, but was slowly replaced by a feeling of calm. The sensation in her veins was sweeping the fear away. Healing magic?

“Well… that’s tough to say, exactly.” The voice replied. “Maybe a few hours? Maybe a bit longer. You hit your head pretty hard on the way down… sorry about that.”

Eveth could recognize the traces of healing magic as it buzzed beneath her skin, behind her eyes. Almost imperceptible, if not for the fact she could see the mana itself. Almost colorless, it flowed silently through her veins. Trying to follow the pattern made her dizzy.

“Sorry about… wait.” She blinked, realization dawning on her. “Who are you?”

“That’s sort of complicated.”

“Oh shit.” Eveth muttered. Her whole body felt sluggish, and tired. She tried to move… it didn’t work well. “Oh shit.” The panic was back.

“Relax, relax. It’s all fixable, and I’ve been making some progress. Nothing to worry about.”

“Progress? What do you mean progress?”

“Healing, mostly.”

Eveth watched the mana pulse beneath her skin.

“Why do I need healing in the first place?”

“Uh... that's a bit complicated, too.” The voice replied. “Just know I’m a friend.”

“Alright, so you’re just some mystery man, here to heal me and ask a couple questions?”

“Pretty much.”

“That’s a whole pile of shit.”

“I kind of figured you might see it that way.”

“I can’t see anything.”

“Yeah, it is dark in here. Annoying right?”

“Dark or not, you realize I can set this entire room on fire in the time it takes you to blink?”

“Ha… oh, no. No, you absolutely can’t.”

“Want to bet your life on that?”

“Absolutely not. Please don’t try, either. This is for your own sake.”

“That a threat?”

“No: it’s a… stern warning.” The voice paused, clearly debating something. “I’m healing you for a reason, Eveth. Besides, you’d burn all your stuff.”

“I’m just supposed to take you at your word on that?”

"Yes?”

“Hell with that.” Eveth tried to stand up. Her legs refused to cooperate. Her head started to dip dangerously far forward, and it took all of her effort just to lean back to the position she’d been in previously.

“Careful, you shouldn’t move yet.”

The voice irked her, but it was right. She felt exhausted.

“Fine, I get it.” Eveth muttered.

“Good.”

“Just tell me what you want.”

“Lots of things.”

“Like what?”

“Well, mostly I’d like to ask you a couple questions.”

“Questions?”

“Yeah, once everything else has been taken care of, anyways.” The voice paused again, as the pulsing calm in her veins twisted around something. Eveth’s leg twitched. “Hmm… well that part’s fixed…” It muttered to itself. “But, yes: mostly just a few questions, and maybe a bit of explanation for some recent events- which I suppose would also involve questions. So… scratch a couple, probably a lot of questions?”

“You seem pretty damn polite for an interrogator.”

“Interrogator? Ha- no, I’m not one of those.” The voice laughed. “I think you’re confused. I told you, I’m a friend.”

“Funny, because I can count my friends these day on one hand, and as much as I try to recall, I’m pretty sure I don’t know you.”

“You know me.”

“Cryptic.”

“Not maliciously, I’d just rather you not freak-out for a few more minutes.”

“You say that, yet, here I am: waking up barely able to move, unable to see a damn thing, and being questioned by some invisible man who has only the best of intentions.” Eveth replied, slowly turning her head as she ignored the vertigo. The sensation was fading now. “I can’t even place your accent.”

“Uh… hmm. Alright, I have to admit, you’re making a lot of sense, while not making a lot of sense.” The trickle of healing pulsed a bit, and Eveth could feel the patterns overlapping on her spine, spinning about almost randomly. Whatever was being done to her, it seemed to be a thorough job. “Hey, do I really have an accent?”

“What are you doing to me? What the hell is going on?”

“Nothing, and nothing.”

“I’m a bloody [Adept] so you’ll have to lie better than that. Even if Faith magic’s is a lost cause for someone like me, I can see you’re doing something with it. You’ve been at whatever that is since I woke up.”

“Well… I told you already, I’m healing you.”

“And that’s nothing?”

“… that’s also a bit complicated?”

“You seem to like that excuse.”

“Yeah, it’s a good one.”

“Fine, just answer one thing for me oh invisible interrogator: how the hell did you even find this place?”

“I didn’t, you brought me down here.” The voice replied. “I guess you don’t remember? Anyways, it’s a nice little base you’ve got, very homey. Brings back some memories. Mine, not yours, apparently.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, just saying. I did something like this a couple times, though. With Earth molding, I mean. Good times… well, actually… no: they weren’t that great. They were terrible... sorry, haven’t really been exercising my communication skills recently. I’m rambling.”

“Listen, that’s great and all, but could you please explain to me why I can’t move?”

“You can move, a little. It’s probably safe.”

Healing flowed up her spine, then moved through her in a very disconcerting sort of way that had Eveth gritting her teeth. Right through her chest and over her heart and-

Her heart stopped.

“Woops.”

Her heart started again.

“I take it back, so sorry. Don’t move, whatever you do. Do not move.”

“Fuck!” She gasped for air as her body spasmed. Eveth felt her toes move, and with great effort managed to tense her legs in a failed effort to stand. “What the fuck did you just do to me?”

“Hard to explain.” The voice replied, sheepishly. “Didn’t expect that to happen, panicked a little.”

“You panicked?”

“Oh yeah. You should have seen me at the start of all this: I was a total mess. Totally freaking out, thought I killed you. I’m still getting the hang of it.”

“Can you please just explain to me what the fuck you’re doing right now?”

“What? I thought this was obvious, I’m healing you-“

“No, not the healing. Fuck the healing! Why are you here? Why am I stuck, unable to move in the dark of a study that only I should know exists? Are you here to kill me? To interrogate me? To use me for something else?”

“… that’s a weird set of questions.”

“Answer me!”

“I’m here because you brought me here. Just wait, and I’ll explain the rest in a couple of minutes.”

“The hell I brought you down here! I’ve never shown anyone this place, so that means you-”

“No, you brought me here, physically- and the reason you’re stuck and unable to move is because you’re a bit of a stubborn jerk who went and did something incredibly stupid.” The voice seemed to distort, then settle. As if quieting something- or someone, in the background. “So, I’m not here to kill you, or interrogate you, or whatever you were insinuating with that last one.”

Eveth sat in silence for a moment, as the healing magic moved in a slow track, now passing down her left arm. It seemed to be more focused now, more intense. She watched it work, unable to understand anything but the most basic premise as it scattered down beneath her skin.

“Why are we in the dark?” She asked.

“Your fancy [Light] spells keeping this place illuminated sort of… died. They were on for a lot longer than I expected them to be… I’d be interested to figure out how you did that.”

“The dark doesn’t bother you, I take it?”

“No, not really.”

“Why’s that? An ability?”

“Not an official one, but maybe something similar.”

“I’ve heard of some people with the [Night Eye] skill. Or [Moon blessed] or-”

“It’s not a skill, more like… it’s tough to explain. You don’t happen to know what levels are, do you?”

“What?”

“Levels, ranks, voices and notifications that let you know you’ve made progress?”

“What in all the gods are you talking about?”

“That’s not really the answer I was hoping for.”

“What were you expecting?”

“Maybe a yes, or a no. Something like that.”

“Hard to do when you decide to stop making sense.”

“Tell me about it.”

Eveth waited, as the voice grew quiet again.

“You tell me then: what’s a level?” She asked. "If it's so important, you must know something."

“Not a whole lot, honestly."

"Then tell me what you do."

"Well, it's like a progression, that starts at… zero? Goes up from there, one, two, three… comes with some basic increases to the normal stuff. Strength, vision, agility, you know? Basic fantasy elements here.”

“You realize that sounds quite a bit like utter lunacy.”

“Yeah... well, then what about skills? Titles?”

“What about them?”

“People shooting fire or swinging giant swords around isn’t crazy? Some of the weapons I’ve seen must be a heavy as the person wielding them. It makes no sense.”

“Magic has clear laws. It’s more logical than most.”

“…”

“Besides that, though, if a [Warrior] or a [Soldier] trains for long enough, what’s so strange about a larger weapon? That’s perfectly natural.”

“…”

“You’re not saying anything, but for some reason I can hear you anyways.”

“… Sorry.”

I’m hearing your displeasure with my response.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Sounded more like something.”

“Just another piece to the puzzle. Explains a few things, I guess.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“If I could explain it without making myself seem insane, I would.” The magic under Eveth’s skin shifted again, splitting down different angles. “Anyways, let’s save that for later. For now, just don’t move. This part is going to be a bit more complicated…”

Was it tracing her veins? Eveth watched curiously. She’d learned a fair amount about human anatomy during her time at the academy. Mages might not be able to use Faith magic, but [Delving] was a respected use of talents, and practical for any caster out in the field. Still, watching the magic, Eveth didn’t think it lined up. It was healing something, but maybe not her veins. Was it some other layer?

Dren would probably know, much as Eveth hated to admit it.

“What are you fixing?” She asked. “I can see the mana moving, but I don’t recognize what it’s following.

“Do you know what the central nervous system is?”

“No, I’ve never heard of that.

“Seriously? Huh… well, that’s what I’m fixing.”

“What does it do?”

“Lots of things.”

“Elaborate.”

“Uh… well, in a very dumbed-down version, this lets your brain talk to the rest of your body. Controls if you can feel, if you can move... the list goes on from there.”

“Hmm." Eveth stopped, considering. "That's an interesting theory, though can’t say I’ve ever heard of such a thing.”

“Then, maybe people call it something else here. I don’t know.”

“What did you mean by talk? Communicates what, exactly?”

“Electrical impulses, patterns or whatever that your body has learned to identify and act on... listen: I’m not a doctor. Probably should be up front with that. I just survived my fair share of gen-ed courses and a lot of random Wikipedia articles. If you dig any deeper, fair chance I’m going to be forced to start making things up.”

“Electrical… like lightning?”

“Yes, only… not so strong.”

“You’re telling me I have lightning in my bones?”

“What? No, that’s ridiculous, not in your bones. Besides, this is probably closer to… static? Something like that.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t question how you can heal this, if you don’t know how it works?”

“Honestly, that bothers me too. Best I can say is that the magic does most of the work on its own. I’m more like the… guidance, or supervisor.”

“I’ll suspend my disbelief and play along for now, oh mysterious interrogator.”

“I’m not- ug. You’re a piece of work, Eveth. It’s the same for any magic, don’t tell me you fret over every tiny detail with using a spell.”

“What about mana?” Eveth cut them off.

“Mana? What about it?”

“Is it there, with the lightning?”

“Sure.”

“Where?”

“It’s soaked into everything, but most of that is in your blood.”

“Interesting.”

“Isn’t it? The last person I healed didn’t have nearly so much of the stuff. Very different, in a lot of ways.”

“Were they a Mage?”

“No, they were closer to a warrior, but I really don’t think that was the major difference.”

“Warrior? That makes sense then. It takes years of hard work to build up mana reserves. Practice, training in mana dense areas, and potions- if you can afford them”

“Potions?”

“Some people will pay for a master alchemist to create potions that are slightly too strong for them, in hopes of expanding their personal mana reserve.”

“And that actually works?”

“Of course, but it’s dangerous. Besides, the price for just one of them is absurd. The reward is rarely worth the risk.”

“…”

“You’re doing that… I don’t know what to call it. That ‘thing’ again. Where you’re saying something without saying something.”

“Whole lot of stuff just starting to make a bit more sense, that’s all.”

“Is it the puzzle you mentioned before?”

“Might be part of a different puzzle.”

“You know, you have this habit of bouncing between making perfect, reasonable, sense, and then making no sense at all.”

“I’d be offended if I didn’t agree with you.”

“How much longer until you’re done with whatever it is you’ve been doing?”

“Don’t start with the are-we-there-yets, Eveth. You’ll be healed when you’re healed. Besides, blame for this is pretty much entirely in your court. Have some patience.”

“Court? Ah… I see.” Eveth tried to move her arms, barely getting a response. It felt like pins and needles now, only everywhere. She had to assume that was progress. “So, you’re a noble then? Let me guess, third son? Fourth?”

“What? No, I’m not a noble, I meant court like the sport- oh. Right… just forget it, forget it.” The voice backtracked, somewhat annoyed. “And don’t move. It makes all this harder than it needs to be. I’ve gotten good at multitasking, but not that good.”

“We certainly wouldn’t want you to make a mistake, now would we?”

“Trust me, we really don’t.” Their tone turned serious as the faint trickle of healing magic continued. “You almost died, and I’ve seen enough of that recently.”

The seriousness of that statement stopped their conversation. It hadn’t fit well, Eveth noted. From aloof to strict, the voice seemed to vary. She found this strange.

She listened.

The voice was still there, in her head, but it was almost muted now. Murmuring as if in a quiet argument with someone. She couldn’t make out the words, but she knew there was someone shouting. Beneath her skin, the healing lessened, and the distant shouting faded off completely.

That was also strange, but then again: the entire situation was strange.

Mentally, Eveth felt about the patterns of mana in her system. As best she could tell, it seemed her recovery (from whatever had happened) seemed to be moving along nicely. She could move her toes without any problems, and to some degree her fingers. More importantly though, her eyes now seemed to be completely adjusted to the darkness. Or, as well as they could be adjusted, in the almost total absence of light.

With the dark, it was mostly just the bare outlines she could make out with accuracy. The feeling of the table underneath her arms, the stool, the basic shape of the walls and floor. Her mind could fill in the blanks easily enough as she turned her head slightly.

The shelves held some mana crystal fragments, to her left there was a sullen sort of glow that could only be coming from her staff. She knew where she was, but…

The only thing left that was causing her mind trouble was one of the minor sources of light coming from the table.

There was a shape much like coil of rope that ended on the back of her left hand. Barely visible, true: but compared to the rest of the room it stood out. What was more, no matter how hard she racked her brain, it seemed out of place.

She didn’t recognize it.

“Alright, you know what I’m really wondering?” Eveth asked aloud, interrupting the muted mumble of the distant voice. “Why now?”

“Why now?” It returned.

“I’d like to think I’ve got your story straight. Some standard sort of unregulated contract: you were hired for a decent sum, maybe through a third party. I’d guess at least a hundred gold, but no more than three hundred for fear of scaring you off. You took the offer, didn’t ask questions, and through one method or another you somehow tracked me down. How am I doing so far?”

“… Terribly?”

“From there you tailed me.” Eveth continued. “Risky move, I might add. So, I’d expect you’ve probably got some interesting abilities up your sleeves. Means you’re either a veteran from the military, or maybe an ex-mercenary? Only most mercenaries aren’t nearly so polite, and they almost never take nobles, which means it’s probably military. Perhaps, a scout?”

“You’re pretty paranoid, Eveth.”

“So, you followed me here and… what? Took your shot when was my guard was down? Maybe right after I opened the wall? Obviously, something went wrong. That’s really the only part of this I’m having trouble with.”

“Something went wrong, at least you got that right.”

“I still don’t know how you made it down the stairs without setting off the traps.”

“… Wait. There were traps?”

“Of course, there were.” Eveth clenched her eyes shut with a smile. “They worked a lot like this: [Eclipse]”

Eveth reached down in her mind, threw as much of her mana towards the spell as she could, and-

“Ohhhh.” The voice replied. “Hey, that’s a good sign.”

She frowned.

That wasn’t the reaction she’d been expecting from a spell meant to blind someone.

Peeking on eye open, Eveth found her effort at catching whoever was in the room off guard had fail. Further to the point, it had done so rather miserably.

The result which had sprung to life in its place, floating only a few inches before her face, was barely a candle’s flame. The sort of variety of [Light] someone expect from a person just beginning their training in the art of spell craft, minus the odd pattern on its surface.

“Reminds me of the sun. Nice trick, very pretty.”

“Shit.” She murmured. Whatever was in her system, whatever had happened, it seemed she was still recovering. “What did you use? Jarrin root? No… I’d be throwing up by now. That means this is some other trick.”

“No trick, although there’s a good chance I’m sort of… in the way? Yeah, I’m probably in the way of whatever you were trying to do right now. Hard to explain.” The voice replied.

“You’re blocking my magic?”

“Probably.”

“Probably?”

“Self-taught, for the most part. Don’t know exactly what the side-effects are for this type of procedure.”

“I hope you realize that the more you talk, the less I trust you.”

“… I’m sort of glad your spell didn’t work then.”

“You have no idea.”

“Well, at least you didn’t try to set the room on fire. I don’t like your chances if you decide to put regular burn on top of mana-burn.”

“Mana-burn?” Eveth asked. “Did you just say mana-burn?”

“Yeah, all down your arms, up into your shoulders, torso, spine, legs… everything really.”

“You can’t be serious.” Eveth felt sick to her stomach. There was just no way that was true. “[Light]”

With a tiny wisp, the spell in front of her was replaced by another, barely any larger than before. She tried to move it, only to find it firmly trapped in the space it had sprouted from. She tried harder, but it still didn’t move.

“Shit.” In a panic, she tried to stand. It didn’t work. She tried to flex her hands, to push off the table. That didn’t work either. “Shit!” She was going to throw up, she could feel it. Bile rising in her throat. “Oh Gods, I’ve been crippled.”

“HEY! Hey, calm down Eveth. Calm down.” The voice interrupted Eveth with a sudden shock that made her dizzy. “Stop trying to move around so much, and I can fix it.”

“You can fix it?” Eveth repeated the words.

“Yes.”

“Do you work for the Church?”

“Church? Uh, no.”

“Then how the fuck can you fix it?” Eveth shouted, or tried to, before coughing violently. The motion was too much for her, causing her body to slump over the table once more. “You lunatic.” She growled. “What did you do to me?”

“Eveth, you gotta calm down.”

“Calm down! How can you say that?” Eveth coughed, “I’ll never be able to use magic again!”

“Relax, Eveth. I’ve fixed this sort of injury hundreds of times. Speaking from personal experience, I’m something of an expert at it.”

“Unless you’re the High Priest of the Church, that’s a fucking lie.”

“Hmm… High Priest. Sounds a little too formal for me: Chosen Prophet is probably a better fit.”

“You’re joking? Now? Are you insane?”

“Hard to tell, recently. Probably not in this case. Also, you’re completely wrong about all that stuff before. Not some noble interrogator, or whatever.” The voice seemed to find humor in the situation. “Though if you can’t remember how you ended up kissing the table with your forehead, I suppose that’s a pretty decent guess.”

Eveth growled, struggling to stand up. Her body failed to cooperate in the slightest. “One of the Northern continent herbs, maybe? Heard some of those can be potent.”

 

“Hey, cut that out. I can fix you, but not if you’re moving around. Also, I didn’t drug you, and this your fault. I told you already.”

“My fault, huh?” Eveth tried to curl her lip and sneer, but she wasn’t sure where to look. “I’ve really got to hand it to you: I never thought the Academy would have the stones. Put out a hit, cripple me, burn down the Guild just to make a statement.”

“Uh… you’ve got me wondering now if maybe I have to fix a heck of a lot more than just physical damage.” The voice replied, tone uncertain. “Hey, seriously, don’t try to stand yet. You might get hurt.”

“Funny thing for someone in your position to care about, now isn’t it?” Eveth growled slouching back down as her muscles gave out: she’d barely been able to lift her body off the stool. “Whoever you are.”

“Not that funny. It’s my job to keep you alive, and for the record: I’ve had my work cut out for me. Just be patient, and I can explain in a minute.”

“Listen, whatever they’re paying you, know it’s not nearly worth your life. You can still walk away from this. When my team finds you, there’s no telling what they’ll do.”

“Paying me? Nobody paid me anything.”

“Then what? Did they promise you something? You can’t trust the Archmages you know, everything that comes out of their mouths is either a lie or a false truth.”

“Archmages? I think you’re all sorts of mixed up. I’m not working for-”

[Eclipse]

Eveth clenched her eyes shut as she tried the spell again. Immediately though, she felt it fail.

“Oh… hey, it’s a little brighter.” The voice seemed thoughtful.

Eveth opened her eyes again to see the new casting. It had replaced the previous, was a bit larger, a bit less stable, and maybe twice as bright as before. Still, just as the previous, her control on it was mostly nonexistent.

“Fuck.” There were no other words for it. She was maimed, on a spiritual level. Maimed, and in the hands of some sort of lunatic. The only benefit of her efforts this time were that, as a result of the spell’s presence, a small portion of the table around her was partially revealed by the weak light.

Only, Eveth didn’t like what she saw.

“What the hell is this?” Her question trailed off as her eyes swept the visible space around her. She was surrounded. Atop the table, tiny faces stared back at her. Nestled around her, and brightly illuminated by the radiant source of air and soul magic above their heads, dozens of ice statues are taking form. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, great! You can see them now.” The voice replied, as always from no clearly discernible direction. “I made a few props for the show. Just wait a bit, I’m almost ready. Multitasking slows me down when it comes to detailed work.”

All around her, the small statues of ice stood solemnly, some sliding forward or backward, as they were positioned. Each within the small range of Eveth’s spell were detailed, as if carved out by the finest touch. Their faces stared at her, as if judging. Directly in front, Eveth recognized one. The form of a younger boy with somewhat pudgy features, raising a short mace in hand as if in prayer.

“Is this Dren?” Eveth squinted at it. Beside the piece, a woman with a fierce looking spear stood proudly: beauty and ferocity molded to stand out, even with the smaller scale. Next to that, there were others. “Dren, Alem, Imra and…” Eveth leaned forward. “My guild? What the hell are you trying to say with this?”

“They’re pretty good, right?” The voice seemed confused by her question, echoing around her from everywhere and… nowhere. “Hey, so what was that about Archmages a second ago?”

“You seriously don't know-“

“Actually, don’t tell me. Doesn’t really matter- it’ll get sorted out later. I hope you’re ready for the show.”

The statues began to move, as if walking. Several others Eveth didn’t recognize came out of the shadows. Many weren’t humans, but instead recognizable shapes of monsters one might find in the dungeon.

Some of them were horrifyingly realistic.

“Ah-hem...” The voice began, “Once upon a time, there was a Tiny God-”

“You seriously mean to tell me you don’t know?” Eveth cut in as she tried to stand again, once more failing at the effort. She still couldn’t move properly, and the healing hadn’t stopped. Gritting her teeth, she made her tone mocking. “You expect me to believe that you took this job without even knowing who you’re working for?”

“Uh… yeah, okay. Eveth, look: I have no idea what you’re talking about. Thanks for interrupting my hard work, though. I really appreciate it.”

“Oh, you’re very welcome. My pleasure.” Eveth squinted ahead as something moved in the darkness.

“Sarcasm, huh? Very funny.” The voice replied, annoyed. “If anyone’s a fool, it would have been the person who was drooling on the table a minute ago- oh! Oh wait, that’s you.”

Eveth watched as the statue made to represent her slid forward with a dramatic stance, and its facial features distorted. It seemed her eyes were suddenly much farther apart than before.

“Looks just like you.”

“Laugh all you want. This is the last place you should have tried to this sort of stunt. You have no idea the shit I’ve rigged to deal with intruders in this room.” Eveth ground her teeth as she focused her magic again. She might be working at a fraction of her strength, but it was still there. “Besides, you think I scare easy? You think I’ll just bend over and let the Academy steal my work again?”

“Uh… no? Listen, you’re obviously still confused.” The statue in front of her melted, cold dripping between her fingers as it spread onto the table in a wide pool, slowly draining away, out of side. “But if you don’t like the ice sculptures, that’s fine. I just thought they were nice, had a whole little skit planned out to try and explain some backstory, but whatever. I guess not…” The rest of the ice sculptures began to melt, pooling water receding into the darkness outside of the [Light] spell’s radius. “No need to be a jerk about it.”

Outside her view, she could see in the shadows there was something forming. Growing larger, shaping itself as the last of the water flowed away. Eveth could see mana at work, molding into… something. Eveth turned her head, searching the darkness for anyone who might be lurking as she tried to stand again, only she couldn’t see anyone. The room almost seemed to be empty, and as she tried to rise, she found she couldn’t.

Her legs were free, but her hands? She realized her arms were bound to the table somehow.

With great effort, she managed to will the glow of the spell slightly forward, revealing the cloth of her sleeves. Pushing harder, she managed to get the small influence as far as her wrists.

They were bracketed to the table by cuffs of ice. They were too thick for her to break.

“Shackles?” Her arms refused to budge. “Seriously, you have to pin a woman down and interrogate her to get what you want? How low can you get?”

“Hold on a second, just hold on. If you break the connection we’ve got, it’s kind of going to completely ruin everything. Stop moving…” The voice distorted, echoing a bit as if another person where shouting, BOW YOU UNGRATEFUL- Shhh. Shush. Chill out. She’s obviously confused, no need for that…”

Eveth listened, as the voices fought back in forth before settling back down. There was more than one person? Looking around she still couldn’t see anyone.

“Having some trouble?”

“Always, but nothing I can’t handle.”

“Sounds like your partner might not agree with you on that.”

“Partner? Oh… no, that’s not my partner. That’s more of a… an unwanted psychosis? Optimistically speaking, I hope that’s what it is.”

“Didn’t sound like that to me.”

“Well, my real partner is back at the inn, second floor. You remember, that one with the boat and the lady?”

“If you touch my teammates, I swear to the Gods themselves-“

“Hey! Hey, relax. Same team.”

“You’ve done a poor job at proving it.”

“Yeah… I’ll be completely honest with you, this isn’t going as well as I planned it.”

“I’ll bet not.”

"Confused or not, I didn’t think you’d be so hostile.”

“Well, you thought wrong.”

“Apparently.”

“I don’t care how many people you brought alone: when I get out of these, you’d better be prepared.”

“For what, being set on fire? Yeah, okay. Worked soooo well last time.” The voice laughed. “We’re on the same team Eveth. Pretty sure I said that already.”

“Then show yourself! Prove it!”

“Fine, I will.” The voice paused. “Just don’t freak out.”

Eveth paused. It was that easy?

“I put a lot of work into a presentation here. Some special effects, action- maybe a hint of romance. It was great, but whatever. Your loss I guess, I’ll skip ahead to the end...”

“The end.” She wasn’t entirely convinced she liked the sound of that. If there was a way out of this, Eveth felt she had to think of it quickly.

As the voice went back to muttering, Eveth caught sight of mana in front of her. A lot of it, moving with increasingly complex patterns as something formed up beneath it. Whatever it was that they were going about with the shadows, Eveth wanted no part of it. Desperately, she managed to pull in a small casting of Soul magic, fumbling with it.

None of the other elements were very responsive to her, but Soul had always been her chosen element. Mentally, she willed the magic, as if fumbling in her mind’s eye against something made of… something. Like a block was in her way, of stone, or maybe coarse glass, she tried seeking around the obstruction until she found the edge.

There.

It was weak, but real. Stronger than the [Eclipse] spells had been, surely. Feeling her way along with the spell, she forced it out, the invisible thread of soul, almost blindly directed it towards where she remembered her staff to be. She’d seen the glow of it, not there… not there-

There!

It was leaning against the doorway, right where she’d normally have left it. The familiar runes in the center piece were unmistakable. Familiar, almost like an extension of her body.

That was half the battle. Now she just had to get over to it.

Clearly, she couldn’t mess with the shackles, not without alerting the caster, but she might be able to get around that if she molded the table underneath...

She dropped the Soul, replaced her focus on Earth.

“Now, for the moment we’ve all been waiting for!” The voice shouted in Eveth’s mind, jarring her.

 

The glow of mana was building, crashing down in waves that she had no time to focus on and interpret. She wasn’t ready, but she was close! She just needed a bit more time!

“The Enemy of the World! The chosen servant of that great scaly force in the sky! The Guardian of all deemed worthy! Behold!”

Eveth felt the stone shifting, as she pushed down, arms clumsy. She was so close, just another bit of stone and she’d be able to pull free.

All around her through, mist was closing in, swirling around her in the dim illumination of that feeble [Light] spell. Shapes and patterns twisted to life as the sculptures moved within them, dancing with the shadows.

“Behold!” The voice in her head boomed. “BEHOLD!”

Eveth’s right arm slipped free, but her left was still trapped. There was no time left.

She watched as the magic surrounded her began to form, ice and mist swirling in powerful forms, and she knew there was only one thing left to do.

“Your Savior has arrived!” Eveth reared back as something rose in front of her, lifted up on a pedestal of ice, as the voice shouted like thunder. “The one! The only! The-”

Eveth didn’t let the voice finish, as she swung out with her free arm and punched it in the face.