“You really made Malah wear this?” Isnita shuffled next to Sapphire. “It itches.”
“Yes, I did.” Sapphire snapped. “And now she’s gone. Stop fidgeting or you could be next.”
“You do realize that I’m your elder by a substantial margin, right?”
“And you realize that people will kill you in an instant if they know what you are?” Sapphire turned and glared up at the angel. “I want Malah back just as much as you, which means you have to cooperate.”
Sapphire crossed her arms and marched forward. Beside her, Isnita strode towards the city gates, head held high. Malah… Malah may have technically been thousands of years older than Sapphire, but she still looked and acted like a child. Isnita, on the other hand, appeared around eighteen years old and knew everything there was to know about the angels. It made it far harder to give the orders.
As they approached the gates of the city, the elven guards stepped forward and placed their hands on their swords.
“Per orders of the king, all citizens entering Nettingo must submit to an investigation.”
“I’m with the king.” Sapphire glared at them. “You know who I am.”
The guards seemed to hesitate. “He didn’t make any exceptions.”
“But you will.” Sapphire allowed streamers of magic to begin to flow between her palms. “Stand aside, or…”
Isnita sighed and held out her hand. Streamers of brilliant light pulsed across the distance between them and struck the guards in the head, temporarily making their helmets glow.
“You will allow us to pass.” Isnita raised an eyebrow. “Or is that a problem?”
The guards both stepped back without a moment’s hesitation. Isnita turned and smirked at Sapphire, then nodded and swept through the now-open gates. Sapphire frowned and scurried after the angel. She was deciding, more and more, that bringing the angel back had been a bit of a mistake.
“What was that?” Sapphire jogged up next to Isnita. “How did you do that?”
“The same way that our drones influence people.” Isnita crossed her arms. “Or perhaps you thought that my magic would differ from the mindless ones that we send across? That their ability to twist the mind was a simple byproduct of travel between realms?”
Sapphire sighed. “Malah never showed the ability to do that, so… I don’t know.”
“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said.” Isnita began to stride faster. “Now, perhaps we should get into a secluded area before we continue speaking?”
She raised an eyebrow, and Sapphire sighed and nodded. They swept forward, making their way towards the palace. Sapphire’s stomach twisted itself into knots as they walked. On one hand, she was excited to have a change to talk to Isnita. There was no telling what information the angel might have that Sapphire simply didn’t understand. On the other hand… Isnita was trying to destroy their realm. So there was that.
When they reached the palace gates, Isnita used the same trick to get past the guards one more time. With that, they were inside. As the sun set, Sapphire led Isnita to the garden that seemed to be the group’s favorite meeting place. She cast a quick spell around the perimeter, hopefully concealing them from prying eyes.
“Is this not still open?” Isnita turned and frowned at the many entrances leading into the small area.
“Trust me, the closed spaces in this place are where you have to be careful.” Sapphire sighed. “I found more than one observation spell in my quarters after I moved in. I wouldn’t spread your wings here, but we’re safer than we are elsewhere.”
“I suppose that’s something.” Isnita sat down on a bench and sighed. “I will give this place props for its beauty and life. Our realm has been desolate for all living memory. No living trees, no animals. Only us angels, most of which have become mindless.”
Sapphire sat down next to Isnita and tried to form her words carefully. “I need your help. I have to find Malah.”
“As do I.” Isnita snapped. “I’m her sister!”
“And I’m her mother.” Sapphire snarled back. “I may not have given birth to her, but…”
Isnita put a hand over her mouth and sat back. “Oh. Oh, I had no idea.”
Sapphire held up her hand. “Malah said she mentioned me to you!”
“She did. She just… Didn’t mention her mother’s name.” Isnita sighed and glanced down. “When you showed up, I could only assume that you were one of her other companions.”
“No!” Sapphire crossed her arms. “Why would you assume that?”
“Why would I assume you were her mother? There’s not much resemblance. I…” Isnita sighed. “I was also expecting someone a bit older. Someone who at least looked older than I was.”
Sapphire raised an eyebrow. “Were you expecting to be adopted as well?”
“Was that too much to hope?” Isnita closed her eyes. “Perhaps we are both operating under far too many assumptions. Tell me what you know, tell me what happened, and I swear by the gods above that I will tell you all that I know as well.”
“Hey!” Sapphire’s illusion shattered as Garnisic stumbled through the translucent field. The dwarf frowned up at Isnita. After a moment, his eyes went wide. “What…”
“Shall I wipe his mind?” Isnita held up a hand.
“No. That’s not necessary.” Sapphire shook her head and frowned down at Garnisic. “What is it?”
“I made the focusing device.” Garnisic held up a small bowl, encrusted with gemstones around the lip. “You can either use it to focus your tracking magic, or you can just drop in a personal effect and let the magic do its work.”
Sapphire sighed. “Thanks, but…”
“But you summoned another angel.” Garnisic glanced down at the bowl. “This took me all day to make!”
“And I’m sure we’ll find uses for it.” Sapphire crossed her arms. “Where’s Hesione?”
“Gone with the Apician blockade.” Garnisic shrugged. “Speaking of other uses, the king asked me to find her. Care to help?”
Sapphire glanced at Isnita, then shook her head. “Not right this second. I’m a little busy.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Garnisic tucked the bowl under his armpit and turned to wander off. “Well, you keep working on Malah, and I’ll go find Hes. Maybe we can both figure out something.”
With that, he trundled off, and Sapphire sighed. She raised the barrier again with a flick of her wrist, and Isnita frowned.
“Wasn’t he your friend?” She raised an eyebrow. “Someone that you cared about?”
“Yeah.” Sapphire closed her eyes. “At least he used to be.”
Isnita took a shallow breath. “Malah spoke so highly of you people.” She leaned forward. “I suppose I had expected something… Different.”
“Well, this is what you got.” Sapphire snapped. “Look, you invaded our realm and killed thousands of innocent people. To try and stop you, the druids mounted an attack on the city, and it kinda messed up everything.”
“Yes.” Isnita nodded. “As we were doing before we were interrupted… Perhaps you should tell me what you know. Once that’s done…” The angel shrugged. “I’ll try to fill in the gaps. Then we can find Malah.” Isnita reached out and took Sapphire’s hand, sending a warm feeling through Sapphire’s body. “Together.”
Garnisic kept his head held high until he heard Sapphire’s magic field zap up again. As he was blocked out, he sighed and glanced down at the floor.
What was happening? He had come back out, just like the king had asked. He was doing everything that anyone asked of him, and still things were falling to pieces. Now Sapphire had someone else to be obsessed with, Hesione was missing, and they were still no closer to finding Ondernifam and Malah. Was he the only glue holding the team together?
“Pull yourself together.” Garnisic squared his shoulders and made his way towards the palace gates. “You’re a dwarf.”
The words didn’t make him feel any better as he stomped out onto the street and started making his way towards the city gates. The last of the street vendors were shutting down their stands, the last few elves out and about were grabbing the last of their purchases. Garnisic shuffled to the side as the golden-skinned giants rushed back and forth, mostly ignoring him.
As far as he knew, he was one of only one or two dwarves in the entire city. It made sense, he was in the capital of the elven empire. Well, Elsinor wasn’t technically an empire, but they sure treated it that way. No one cared about the dwarves. Not even his own team.
He growled low in his throat as he walked. Why had Hesione ran off? If she would have just bucked up and talked to her dad, so much of this could have been avoided. That’s all it would have taken! Simple! Right?
He sighed as he reached the main gates. No, she had run. She had left, out into the wilderness, to do whatever she wanted to do. She had left him behind, all over again. As Garnisic walked past the guards and onto the bridge, they didn’t even bother to glance down at him. He wasn’t even important enough to be considered a security threat. Great.
The sun finished setting as he reached the midway point of the bridge. Overhead, the stars came out as the last brilliant rays of light slowly faded. A wolf howled in the distance, and he shuddered. Great. The king was so desperate to find his girl that he had sent Garnisic out alone. At night. Without a guard. He slowly reached down and hefted the hammer off his belt. It wasn’t a fantastic weapon in the slightest, but it was something.
As he reached the trees, he held the bowl out in front of him. Carefully, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small coin that had apparently once belonged to Hesione. It fell into the bowl with a clang, causing the gemstones on the side to light up. They flickered back and forth for a moment before a single gem, the one pointing down the road, stayed lit.
Garnisic smiled and slowly rotated the bowl, watching as the gemstone went dark and another took its place. Whichever stone most closely pointed in the correct direction lit up with an inner light, the others remained as inert as coal. A perfect compass.
He smiled and walked down the road, whistling as he went. It wasn’t much, but it was a direction. In the end, that was something, right? Of course, it didn’t tell him how far she had gone in that direction, but that was something he could worry about when the time came.
He had only been walking for a short time, perhaps half a mile from the bridge, when something moved in the trees. He stopped whistling and gripped his hammer a bit tighter.
“Be warned!” Garnisic called out. “My hammer is the scourge of the undead! I will incite fear in the hearts of all who dare oppose me!”
“Then I suppose it’s a good thing I’m just here to rob you.” A boy, no older than fifteen, shuffled out of the trees. He wore a thick black shawl over his shoulder, likely the reason Garnisic hadn’t seen him in the first place. “Why don’t you hand over that bowl?”
“And… The whole thing exploded. That was the last I saw of her.” Sapphire shrugged. “We’ve been working on figuring out everything else since then.”
“I see.” Isnita nodded slowly. “Then… Perhaps it was good that you brought me here. May I explain?”
“Literally what I’ve been asking you to do.” Sapphire sighed. “Please, talk.”
“Right.” Isnita took a breath and nodded. “When that happened… We weren’t really certain what had happened. Without warning, five of our angels, likely the ones that the druids had captured, were thrown back across into our realm. They were unharmed, naturally, but it was a bit of a shock. To our knowledge, no one else possessed the magic necessary to jump across such massive distances.”
She sighed and shrugged. “We noticed that someone had been trying to drain the magical abilities of the drones. We began to realize that it would be possible to drain our life force, our energy, and use it as a conduit to come back across to our own realm. We were obviously a bit terrified of this fact, and withdrew all our drones from your realm. Since then, we have been spending our time improving the magic that the drones carry, trying to ensure that this could never happen again.”
“So you’re making your creatures of death even more powerful?” Sapphire raised an eyebrow.
“They’re stronger than they’ve ever been.” Isnita nodded. “It truly is amazing, isn’t it?”
“No!” Sapphire crossed her arms. “They’re…”
“They’re effective.” Isnita smiled. “Tell me, were you able to destroy a single one of our creations?”
Sapphire frowned, then sighed and shook her head. “No. No, we weren’t even able to scratch them.”
“I thought not.” Isnita smiled. “We’ve had thousands of years behind us. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. There are not more powerful beings anywhere.”
Sapphire nodded and closed her eyes. “So… What were you at war with? I know Malah said that you didn’t know, but…” She glanced up. “Surely you know something.”
Isnita sighed and crossed her arms. “That has been the subject of much debate. As I told Malah, we keep a calendar that we record everything on. It is the only way we can remember, the only way we know what happened so many years ago. And yet…” She shrugged. “The records state very clearly that we went to war with something. Apparently, we never wrote down what we went to war with. That information is simply… Gone. We have hunches, we have theories, but that’s all they are.”
“Right.” Sapphire nodded. “Can… Can you answer another question?”
Isnita nodded. “Please.”
“What happened to Malah?” Sapphire glanced down at the ground. “How… How did she die the first time?”
Isnita sighed. “All I know is that it was a duel. Some sort of an arranged conflict, per a treaty that we had drawn up. This would have been about ten thousand years ago. She was killed, and… Something happened.” Isnita sighed. “Once more, I don’t know. The memory of the duel isn’t there, I only have what little I wrote down.”
“An arranged duel.” Sapphire sighed. “When was the last recorded encounter with your enemies?”
“That same duel.” Isnita shrugged. “Since then, our calendar has nothing. If we did encounter them, none of us wrote it down before it faded from memory. And let me be clear, I can’t remember the vast majority of my life, but my memory does go back thousands of years. I can’t imagine that I would have gone that long without writing it down. If nothing else, I would have chiseled it into stone or… Something.”
Sapphire nodded. “So you can only assume that you haven’t seen them.”
“Exactly.” Isnita nodded. “And…” She sighed and closed her eyes. “Part of me thinks that was intentional.”
“Intentional?” Sapphire tapped her chin. “What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to say.” Isnita shrugged. “I just…” She shook her head. “The calendar marks Malah’s death. It was…” She shuddered. “I cannot remember things precisely, but feelings can persist. That was the saddest day of my life, the day that I have rued for the countless millennia since then. But…” She shrugged. “Next to the report, I wrote something. Mission accomplished.” She held up her hands. “What does that even mean?”
Sapphire crossed her arms. “Did you mean to kill Malah?”
“I don’t know.” Isnita shook her head. “I know nothing, I don’t remember. All I have is what I wrote down, and that isn’t much.”
“Right.” Sapphire nodded slowly, then puffed out her cheeks. “Do you mind if I ask another strange question?”
“You’ve been doing plenty of that.” Isnita shrugged. “But sure, fire away.”
“Are there any male angels?” Sapphire frowned. “Maybe with black wings instead of white?”
Isnita shook her head slowly. “No. No, I’m quite certain of it. That’s been one of the greatest mysteries of our culture. Why do you ask?”
“Because there’s a male angel in the area.” Sapphire shrugged. “I was planning on tracking him down, but I got sidetracked finding you.”
“Of course.” Isnita closed her eyes. “This is insane. I have five thousand years of working memories, and I feel like the last six months have provided more excitement.” She climbed to her feet and smiled. “Does it make you sad that I’ll likely forget all about you, all about this?”
Sapphire shrugged. “Humans only live to be around a hundred years old anyway. Even elves only live to be six or seven hundred. Your memory is still a lot longer than that.”
“I suppose so.” Isnita dipped her head as Sapphire stood up as well. “Shall we go find this mysterious male angel of yours? Perhaps he’ll have even more information than I do.”
“I think that sounds fantastic.” Sapphire held out her hand. “Please, lead the way.”
“You want my bowl?” Garnisic’s mind raced. “But sir, this is a worthless heirloom, passed down by my ancestors to their descendants for a thousand years! Cut off my beard, take my feet! Do not take this bowl.”
“Stop sniveling.” The boy raised an eyebrow. “It’s not becoming of a dwarf.”
“Oh, yeah?” Garnisic crossed his arms. “And what is?”
“Defiance. Just like that.” The boy sighed. “Look, just hand it over, okay? It’s obviously a tracking device of some sort, and I need to get home.”
“Right.” Garnisic nodded slowly. “And if I give this to you, I don’t get to find the person I need.”
The boy sighed and crossed his arms beneath his shawl. “Alright, let’s cut a deal. I take the bowl, I find where I need to go, and then I give it back to you.”
“While you’re at it, I’d love to buy a beach house in Tornor.” Garnisic muttered. “What do you take me for?”
The boy groaned. “At the moment, I’m taking you for an ignorant, stubby savage that’s probably going to think I’m a demon summoned from the depths of hell. Ahh, well.” He stood up and threw off his shawl, allowing enormous, pitch-black wings to unfurl from his shoulders. “What do you think of me now?”
Garnisic raised an eyebrow. “I think you’re the angel that Sapphire was so keen on finding.” He gestured at the bowl. “I actually built this thing for her to find you. She decided she didn’t want it, but…”
“Sapphire?” The boy frowned. “You mean the hot blue chick?”
Garnisic frowned. “She wears a blue dress, but she’s human, not avian.”
“Right.” The boy sighed. “Name’s Simon. How’d you like to make a deal with a devil?”
Garnisic continued to stare at him. What was he talking about?
“Oh, for the sake of the gods. Please tell me that you people have the concept of a devil?” Simon fell to his knees. “A demon? Something big and dark and scary and covered in flames? Usually the lord over the underworld, whatever concept of that you happen to have? I mean, he’s usually terrifying and good to stay away from, but it would make so many concepts much easier to get across.”
Garnisic sighed. “We’ve got Nubierd. He’s the lord over Firengot, the… Third Realm? Maybe the Fourth? He’s big and scary, but he’s not lord over the underworld.”
“Oh, Nubierd!” Simon perked up. “Oh, yeah, we flew through his realm once. He threw like fifteen volcanoes at our ship. We decided never to go back there. I didn’t realize we were so close.”
“Simon!” Garnisic barked. “What are you talking about and what do you want?”
“Right.” Simon sighed. “Look, here’s the deal. I’m pretty sure my ship crashed somewhere, and I’d be willing to bet that it’s on this realm. Let me see the bowl, and if I’m wrong, you can have it back and I’ll go into seclusion somewhere in the wilderness until this world progresses enough to create technology sufficient enough to leave this planet. If I’m right, you can travel with me to the ship, I bid you farewell, and we go about our business. Sound fair?”
“Sounds confusing.” Garnisic sighed. He was supposed to be finding Hesione, but… She had left him, and Sapphire had already said that the dark angel could be the key to getting Malah back. “But… Fine. Here.”
He passed the bowl to the angel. Simon quickly scooped it up and dumped out the coin. The small piece of copper clattered to the ground, and Garnisic slowly bent down to pick it up. He half-expected the angel to have flown away by the time he stood back up, and was pleasantly surprised to find him still there, a curious expression on his face.
“What?” Garnisic frowned. None of the gemstones were lighting up. “Have you put anything in yet?”
“Nope.” Simon shook his head. “Just thinking about how cool this thing is. If I’m right, these enchantments actually analyze the genetic structure of latent skin or hair cells left on whatever object you drop inside. Once in, it appears to use some sort of quantum sequencer to locate paired genomes elsewhere on the planet.”
“Or…” Garnisic paused. “It’s magic.”
“Right, of course.” Simon nodded and brought one of his wings around in front of him. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and yanked one of the feathers off the pristine wings. He yelped loudly, took a deep breath, and dropped the feather into the bowl. Instantly, the gemstones lit up and pointed to the east. “Haha! We’re in business.”
“No, we’re on the trail.” Garnisic sighed as the angel started to walk off into the trees. “You don’t want to go by the road?”
“Nah.” Simon shook his head. “That’ll take too long. We don’t have time to waste!”
“And how long do you think it’ll take to get wherever we’re going?” Garnisic pointed at the bowl. “That thing doesn’t sense distance, only direction.”
“Of course.” Simon frowned. “Will you allow me to fly off for a brief moment? I swear that I will return. I only need a few minutes, and I can tell you the distance to within… Ten or fifteen miles.”
Garnisic sighed. Simon could just fly off anytime he wanted to. “Go for it.”
Simon nodded, gripped the bowl even harder, and flew off into the night. He vanished into the darkness, and Garnisic pulled his hammer off his belt. Five minutes passed, then ten. Garnisic was getting fairly nervous when Simon finally returned. He landed next to Garnisic, a small frown on his face.
“It’s a bit of a distance?” Garnisic raised an eyebrow.
“Close to two hundred miles, if I don’t miss my guess.” Simon crossed his arms. “I don’t suppose that you would be willing to let me borrow this artifact? Or that this continent somehow and inexplicably has developed some sort of transportation system that can get us both there in a relatively short amount of time?”
Garnisic sighed and shook his head. “I’m going to assume the answer is no.”
“Of course it is.” Simon clapped Garnisic on the shoulder. “In that case, I bid you farewell. I was able to triangulate a rough estimate of the crash location, so if I’m too blind to notice an enormous smoking wreck of a spaceship, I probably don’t deserve to find it anyway.”
“Right.” Garnisic nodded slowly as Simon handed the bowl back to him. “Thanks? I think.”
“Please, forgive how strange this conversation likely was.” Simon dipped his head. “In the past, I’ve never been allowed to interact with primitive cultures. This is probably why. In the future, if we cross paths, I shall remember you.”
“I don’t think I’ll be forgetting you anytime soon, either.” Garnisic sighed. “You think we’ll meet again?”
Simon shrugged. “Well, if what I saw through the portal is accurate, my ship is a smoking heap of slag with about the same functionality as a broomstick. We’ll need a way to make it work again, and your dwarven enchantments seem the closest thing to proper science that this place has.”
Garnisic frowned. “Humans have flying broomsticks.”
“And of course they do.” Simon sighed. “Farewell, master dwarf!”
“One moment.” Garnisic held up his hand as Simon readied his wings for takeoff. “I know… Sapphire was trying to hunt you down because she thought you might have some connection to friends of ours. They vanished in the same moment that you appeared.”
“She said the same thing to me.” Simon sighed. “She also mentioned the name Isnita, who happens to be the mortal enemy of my captain.”
And now Isnita had been summoned into this realm. Things just kept getting better and better. “Right. Anyway, our friends got taken. Ondernifam, an orc, and Malah, an angel.” He sighed. “Look, if you see them…”
“I swear on my honor that I will rescue them if they are still alive.” Simon shrugged. “I never was one for the chain of command, and Amil just has a perpetual stick up his…” Armored footsteps sounded on the cobblestone, and he sighed. “I should be going. Farewell, Garnisic.”
With that, he blasted off into the sky. A few moments later, a golden-armored elven guard walked into view. The soldier gave a quick glance down at Garnisic before continuing onward.
Garnisic sighed, then dropped Hesione’s coin into the bowl. The lights burst into existence, and he plodded onward. None of the conversation had made sense to him, but if he was right… Well, if he was right, there was a tiny chance that Malah and Ondernifam were going to be okay. If Simon could rescue them… If Simon would rescue them…
He didn’t know what was happening. All he knew was that he had the capabilities to track Hesione back down again. Once that was done, he would go from there. Maybe Sapphire would be able to make more sense of it than he could.
“I will destroy you!” Ondernifam roared at the angels. “I will break every bone in your body!”
No one answered him. Of course, that may have been because no one could see or hear him. The angels had stuck him at the very back of a nearby cave. Some sort of magical barrier had been thrown up to prevent him from leaving. And they had taken Malah.
“Pathetic mortals!” Ondernifam slammed his hands into the mysterious barrier. Lightning shot up his arms. He fell to the ground, limbs spasming. “You will fall!”
No one answered him. He sighed and prepared to jump at the field again.
“Whoa, now.” Amil walked into the cave entrance. “There’s no need for violence. You’re trapped. That’s that.”
“I will win.” Ondernifam snarled and leapt at the magical barrier. He slammed into it full force, leaving spots across his vision. “I will kill you.”
“I’m still not betting on that.” Amil sighed and crossed his arms. “Would you like to see the girl?”
“Yes.” Ondernifam nodded. “Please.”
“Well… You’re not going to.” Amil smiled. “Oh, you orcs are fun to mess with.”
Ondernifam smiled. “You know I am an orc!”
“Yes.” Amil crossed his arms. “That was a clever bit of trickery on Malah’s part, now wasn’t it? She’s smart, that one.”
“Why are you here?” Ondernifam growled. “I will-”
“Yeah, got it.” Amil sighed. “I actually just wanted to see what you knew. We raided a nearby village and kidnapped a bunch of people, but we don’t actually have that much information. Right now, I can tell you that we’re in a country called Elsinor. I can tell you that people are terrified of angels because the Sisters have been attacking the land, and I can tell you that orcs are the proudest species on the planet and rather hate being called dwarves. Now, what I don’t know is where your friends are located.”
Ondernifam nodded. “You are ignorant of their activities.”
“Yes. Yes I am.” Amil nodded. “So, here’s the deal. You tell me where your friends are hiding, and I let the girl live.”
“You will not harm Malah!” Ondernifam roared.
“I’ll do whatever I please.” Amil snickered. “That’s the thing about being captain. You get to call the shots. Ferguson?”
Another angel walked into the room, holding Malah’s limp body. The second angel dropped Malah onto the ground in front of the magical field, and Amil raised an eyebrow.
“What’s it going to be? Where are your friends?”
Ondernifam sighed, then perked up. He could trick the angels!
“They’re in Calsin.”
“Calsin is the name of the continent.” Amil reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of metal. He ran his thumb across a glowing light. Malah screamed in pain. “You’re going to have to do better than that.”
Ondernifam frowned. “They’re in Donitor.”
“Donitor is on the other side of the continent.” Malah screamed again. Amil smiled. “Orcs seem to be known for their bravery, but not their wit. Tell the truth.”
Ondernifam snarled. “They’re in Elsinor.”
“Once again, we pretty much already knew that.” Amil sighed.
“Then you should have listed that when you told me everything you knew!” Ondernifam didn’t understand what the man was saying.
“May I cut in, boss?” Ferguson stepped forward. “I think I might know how to convince him to speak.” Ferguson slowly knelt down next to Malah and pulled out a knife. “Now, right now, we know that your friends were probably somewhere in Elsinor. Makes it handy that we landed here. I want to know a city name, and I want to know how many defenses Elsinor has that they could bring against us.”
“Elsinor has no defenses that could stand up to an orcish army!” Ondernifam roared. “They would fall against us!”
“Right.” The knife bit into the top of Malah’s skin, drawing a spot of blood. “Let’s start with the name of the city that your friends were in.”
Ondernifam growled. “They weren’t in a city.” The knife moved a bit farther, drawing a line across her throat. Ondernifam closed his eyes and looked away. “It’s true!”
“Then what city were they near?”
Ondernifam crossed his arms. “Nettingo. The Capital city.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Ferguson smiled. “Please, describe your friends to me. What species, and how powerful were they?”
“Oh, they’re plenty powerful.” A new voice cut into the conversation. Amil and Ferguson spun as a third angel walked into the cave. “The girl’s mom is a human with anger management issues that would put an orc to shame. Then there’s a dwarf that has a better understanding of quantum physics than…”
“Simon!” Amil leapt forward and pulled the newcomer into a quick hug. “I thought you were dead!”
“I thought you thought I was dead.” Simon pushed away from Amil and crossed his arms. “I’ve been stuck on this backwater planet for six months now. Six! I installed trackers on every one of us for a reason.” He glanced at Ferguson. “Did you even think about pressing the bright blue button labeled find lost crew member?”
Ferguson crossed his arms. “When did you put that together?”
“Around two thousand years ago.” Simon reached up and tapped Ferguson on the forehead. “I know your brain has the computing power of a rock, but even you should have a longer memory than that.”
“We’re sorry.” Amil bowed his head sarcastically. Ondernifam thought that was funny. The man wasn’t sorry! “It must have slipped out minds when we realized that we could finally defeat the Sisters.”
“Yeah, you might want to forego those plans.” Simon walked past them and knelt down over Malah’s body. He picked up a strand of her hair, letting it play through his fingers. “Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some power, but we all know that the only reason we were able to beat them in the Battle of the Seven Nights was because our technology was better. Now that someone blew my ship up, we’re back to good old swords and sorcery, and let me tell you, those girl angels are whoppers.”
“You’ve seen them?” Amil frowned. “The civilians we’ve captured have spoke of them. They sound like robots.”
“Somehow, I don’t think they possess advanced robotic technology.” Simon climbed back to his feet. “It is possible, though, that they induced a semi-cationic state in order to allow the fragile mind to survive the rigors of unprotected interdimensional travel.”
“Right.” Amil sighed and glanced at Ondernifam. “Should we move this meeting elsewhere?”
“Nah.” Simon waved his hands. “Orcs have the same average intelligence as five-year old children of other species. Trust me, I’d know. I’ve been stranded here long enough. And, if you don’t mind, my delicate composure isn’t yet accustomed to the harsh, natural sun of this planet.”
“You’re insufferable sometimes, you do realize that, right?” Ferguson sighed and leaned against a wall. “Alright, then. What’s the situation? From someone who’s been here awhile. What do you know of the Sisters, and of this world?”
“Now that is a long and interesting discussion that could take entirely too much time out of our limited schedules.” Simon crossed his arms. “Simply put, this planet seems to be a dumping ground for all the species that the universe didn’t want. The Sisters, or angels as they’re known in these parts, invaded without provocation and wiped out hundreds of thousands of people before they vanished just as suddenly as they came. According to the Persphonar, the appearance of the angels was directly linked to that girl right there rising from the dead.”
“Who are the Persphonar?” Amil turned to look at Malah. “She rose from the dead?”
“The Persphonar are tree-hugging hippies that worship some sort of tree goddess.” Simon frowned. “Which, in a way, makes sense. If you believe your god is a tree…”
“Right.” Simon took a deep breath. “They keep track of resurrections across the world, since there are usually negative consequences from such behavior. Sometimes, someone else just drops dead after the person comes fully back to life. Other times, they just go insane. It kinda depends on how they were brought back. Anyway…” He glanced at Ondernifam. “The girl comes back to life, and the angels show up. The girl gets taken away, they vanish. Now she’s back, and Isnita just appears in the elven capital city? Coincidence?”
“I’d bet against it.” Amil murmured. “So… Malah is the key to all this?”
“Sort of.” Simon wagged his hand back and forth. “When Malah reappeared, the Sisters were probably able to lock onto her quantum signature and…”
“Do you just stick the word quantum in front of everything to make yourself sound smarter?” Ferguson cut in. “It really doesn’t work.”
“First off, it does.” Simon held up a finger. “Secondly, if I was really going to try and sound intelligent, I would go talk to someone else. Having to explain everything to you two is like talking to kindergartners, and no one sounds intelligent when talking to kindergartners.”
“What are you trying to say?” Amil sighed and glanced at the ground. “How does any of this help us?”
“Honestly? Not sure it does.” Simon shrugged. “It does, however, make an interesting point. The angels shows up immediately after she arrived. Not within a day, or a week. The first recorded angel attack took place on the exact same day. Now, it took a few months more before the attacks became widespread, but we know that the results were instantaneous.”
“Alright?” Amil shrugged. “So?”
“So…” Simon held up his hands. After several seconds he sighed and lowered them again. “It means that the Sisters were watching for Malah to reappear. They probably had some sort of spell in place to scan for her signature, and the moment it appeared, boom! They sent a drone across to start scoping things out. They had this realm pegged for a reason.”
Amil frowned. “Any idea what that reason is?”
“As I stand before you today, I have not the slightest clue.” Simon shrugged. “I’d have to consult the ship’s records to see if we’ve ever encountered anything like this before, and since my records have now been erased by whoever was piloting the ship during entry, I’m as clueless as you are.”
“What about that warning message?” Ferguson glanced at Amil. “The one telling us to destroy the realm?” He frowned. “Is it possible that the Sisters encountered the same threat in the past?”
Amil frowned and closed his eyes. “It’s possible, yes.” He opened his eyes once more, only a moment later. “Perhaps we will soon be fighting a two-front war.”
“Perhaps we will.” Simon clapped Amil on the shoulder. “Now, why don’t you two geniuses go figure out what that big, scary threat might be? Sound like a plan?”
“And you don’t plan on being part of that?” Ferguson raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
Simon glanced down at Malah’s form. “Don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty humans in this realm. Actually, come to think of it, there’s some pretty hot elves, too. And aqahartis. Oh, and I met this merfolk girl that was…” His voice trailed off, and he sighed. “Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve seen another female angel? No, because our memories don’t go back that far and someone erased the data. Give me a few minutes with her, and I’ll get along to your meeting.” He shrugged. “Figured you’d enjoy the time alone.”
Amil cracked a smile and glanced at Ondernifam. “Just be careful not to kill her. We may still need her as leverage over him.”
“Sir, yes sir!” Simon snapped to attention. Ferguson and Amil both rolled their eyes and walked away. Simon watched them leave, then turned to Ondernifam, a cruel smile on his lips.
“If you touch her, I will end you.” Ondernifam growled. “If you do anything…”
“Mmk, let’s get one thing straight.” Simon walked up to the edge of the field. He held out a finger, smiling as several lightning bolts zapped out to his him in the palm. “I may be an immortally handsome angel, and I may enjoy the company of a female every few days or so.” He frowned. “That said, I would never touch a girl without her expressed consent. The fact that those two insufferable plague rats would suspect for a moment that I might do such a thing is a pox on my entire race.”
Ondernifam nodded slowly. “That means?”
“It means that I’m going to let you go free.” Simon flashed a grin. “You and Malah, both. Here.” He pulled a small device out of his pocket. “This is called a remote control. I think it was originally used to watch a thing called television. Couldn’t tell you for sure, since I can’t remember ever having such a device. You want my bet, Ferguson probably threw it out an airlock and just waited for us to forget.” Simon paused. “You don’t interrupt me as much as they do. I like it.”
“You were letting me escape?” Ondernifam rumbled. The angel didn’t make sense, but one or two things sounded good.
“Right.” Simon nodded. “So, they’ve been controlling you through some dwarven doohickeys rammed into your spinal cords. Based off my admittedly impressive knowledge of such things, I think I can reverse-engineer the enchantments. Turn around.”
“I would never turn my back on an enemy!” Ondernifam rumbled.
“Well, if you don’t, Malah’s probably going to die.” Simon shrugged. “I assume you don’t want that to happen. Spin.”
Ondernifam glanced at Malah. She snored softly, peacefully. He squared his shoulders and spun, facing the rear of the cave.
“Good!” Simon sounded pleased. “Now, just give me a few seconds.”
Without warning, pain lanced up and down Ondernifam’s body. It came from the back of his neck, like a spider had just bitten into him. He snarled, reached up, and tore the thing from his skin. Dwarven metal clattered to the back of the cave, and he jumped on it.
“I was planning on asking for that thing so I could study it, but sure, go ahead and smash it.” Simon sighed. “You can turn around now.”
Ondernifam spun to see Simon leaning over Malah’s body. The same dwarven device climbed off the back of Malah’s neck, and Simon scooped it up.
“There! She should heal now.” He sighed. “Take her and go. When you leave the cave, go to your left. There’s a ravine, it should keep you hidden until you can make it into the larger woods. Head west as fast as possible, your friends are still in Nettingo. It’ll be a run, but I have no doubt that your powerful orcish muscles are up to the task.”
“I will leap the entire distance in a single bound.” Ondernifam declared. He bent down to pick up Malah. His hands nearly wrapped around her entire body. Cradling her, he stood back up. “Will she be okay?”
“Her body is healing naturally. Give her an hour, and she’ll be able to fly faster than you can run.” Simon sighed as Ondernifam walked past him. “Orc?”
Ondernifam stopped and glanced down. “Yes?”
“I’m letting you go because I can say with almost complete certainty that there’s more happening in this situation.” Simon sighed. “Amil will decide to wipe the face of the planet from existence. I’m certain of it. Once he instigates all-out war, he’ll go after the Sisters. This is a war that I’m almost certain we can’t win.” Simon sighed. “It seems like we can’t be killed, but we can. When we left our home planet, we had a thousand ships, the most powerful armada the multiverse had ever seen. Now, there’s about two hundred of us left, and we’re down to exactly zero ships. What’s curious is that we never wrote down when one of our own died. The official reasoning was that we would forget, and the pain would go away.”
Ondernifam snorted. “Pain is a part of life.”
“I couldn’t have said it better.” Simon smiled. “And I say a lot of things quite fantastically, believe me. Now, I think that Amil knows that. And… I think there’s something that we’re all missing. Something that we’ve forgotten.” He shrugged. “If I don’t miss my guess, something is here in this realm. I’d kinda like to find it and destroy it once and for all. You know?”
Ondernifam didn’t have a clue what the man was talking about. “Yes, I know.”
“Good.” Simon nodded at the cave entrance. “Tell Sapphire and Isnita where I stand. If you can convince the Sisters to start looking for this new threat and not us, maybe Amil can be persuaded as well.”
“Of course.” Ondernifam nodded. “You are weak cowards that do not want to fight.”
“No.” Simon held up a finger. His voice slowed. “I’m a weak coward that doesn’t want to fight. Amil is a brave warrior that wants to destroy the world. Got it?”
This time it made sense. “Got it!”
With that, Ondernifam bounded down the length of the cave. He rushed out into the sunlight and immediately spun to the left, as instructed. Rocks flew under his feet as he jumped down, out of sight. With that done, he tore off into the early morning light, racing ahead of the shadows that slowly began to shorten.
He had a long way to go. But he had Malah. It wouldn’t be long before he was back with Sapphire, Hesione, and Garn.
They would be a family again.
Hesione sighed as she walked out of the small room at the inn. Behind her, Donifer rolled over in the cot, moving away from the morning light streaming through the window. She smiled and shut the door, making her way towards the common area. The small area was more of a welcome space, with a burning fire, a few tables for patrons to sit at, and a small bar on the far side of the room.
“Morning.” The innkeeper barked at her from his stool behind the front counter. He was one of the most obese elves she had ever seen. Of course, obese elves weren’t really that common, so they tended to stick out in her memory. “Fire’s hot if you have your own game. Bread, cheese, and dried rations can be purchased from the bar.”
Hesione dipped her head in his direction, then walked across the room to a small bar and placed a single gold coin on the wood. “A block of cheese and a loaf of barley bread, please.”
“Of course.” The dark elf bartender pulled the items from below the counter. “You’re one of the lovers, right?”
Hesione felt heat rise to her cheeks. She and Donifer had shared a room, of course, but that was primarily because neither of them had any large sum on money on them. Nevertheless, the title did sound nice.
“Uh, huh.” The man gestured down the hallway. “Feel free to eat in the room. Be out of here by noon or you’ll face an extra charge.”
Hesione nodded, took the food, and walked back down the hall. As she walked into the small room, Donifer sat up and flashed her a soft smile.
“Ahh, breakfast. You read my mind.”
“It’s not homemade, but it’ll have to do.” Hesione gave him the cheese and sat down next to him with the bread. “This… This is nice, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it really is.” Donifer sighed and smiled. “He really just let you go?”
“Told me to run.” Hesione smiled. “Once we get to Delsinor I’ll have to figure out how to cover up just the high elf parts of me.” She frowned. “Any idea how to wrap a face but let your hair hang free?”
“A mask?” Donifer chuckled and smiled. “I…” He sighed. “I hope you know how much I enjoy this. I honestly wasn’t sure what to think when you came running up, but…” He shrugged. “You know what? We only live once. As evidenced by the lack of any family upon my arrival. I’ve lived as a dark elf in Nettingo, we’ll see how you handle the forests of the dark elves. Might be an adventure!”
“I look forward to it.” Hesione smiled. “Are you ready to go?”
“Almost.” Donifer nodded. “I just need to go get my items out of storage. If you want anything more out of the common area, I’ll get everything ready to go and we’ll meet out front?”
Hesione nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good to me.”
Donifer took her hand and gave it a soft squeeze. He climbed to his feet, turned, and swept out of the room. Hesione took a deep breath and climbed to her feet as well. She finished off the meal, then walked back out into the common area. There were only a few other people there that early in the morning, but…
Her jaw dropped as a high elf staggered out of the hallway, pushing straight past her and angling towards the bar. If only it had just been a random stranger. If only she had walked out mere seconds earlier. He dropped onto one of the stools and threw a handful of coins onto the wooden surface.
“Moon ale. Quick.”
The bartender, an elven woman, frowned down at the obviously hungover Paulin. “Not on your life.”
“I’ve got coin.” Paulin bit out. “Why won’t you just give it to me?”
“Because your coin isn’t going to cover the damage once you get drunk and trash the place.” The woman raised an eyebrow. “That’s why.”
Paulin fell forward, letting his head thunk against the countertop. Without moving an inch, he groaned loudly.
“I’m well aware.” The woman slapped him, eliciting another yelp of pain. “Now get off your hindquarters, get outside, and get some work done. Come evening, you can come back here and keep getting drunk.”
Paulin groaned and spun away. “Keep the coins. It’ll be a down payment on…”
Hesione suddenly realized that she had been staring at him. And, now, he was staring straight at her. He blinked several times, not saying a word. She took a step back, and he slowly climbed to his feet.
Before either of them could speak, the door to the inn burst open, allowing a disgruntled dwarf to clomp inside. Garnisic didn’t seem focused on anything, just… Exhausted. He held a small bowl encrusted with gemstones, one of which appeared to be glowing.
“Anyone seen an elf?” He muttered, eyes half-closed. “Tall? Probably looks like royalty? Looks like she might run off and leave her friends?” He forced his eyes open and stared down at the bowl. Slowly, he head came up, meeting Hesione’s eyes. “Ahh, there you are. I thought you only had a couple hours’ head start! How’d you get this far?”
Once more, before she could answer, Donifer poked his head in the door. “Alright, Hes, I’m ready…” His voice trailed off, and he glanced between both other individuals that seemed transfixed on Hesione. “Well. This is awkward.”
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