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Enter the Ebon Wing (part 1)

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 2 years, 9 months ago

The clack of ivory against marble reverberated throughout my room as I placed a bishop back down onto the game board. It is a thing of beauty, complete with gold trimmings around the edges and in the grooves between each tile. Besides the beating of my heart and the occasional sigh, the room was deathly silent. It made the room feel so very empty despite knowing better. Despite the silence a palpable tension hung heavily over the table as this game of chess reached its final stages.

 

     “Check,” I declared.

 

I looked up and saw the chair in front of me was still empty. I let out a sigh of resignation, crossed my arms and waited. Since a watched pot never boils I let my eyes wander for a minute. Another clack against the board drew me back and upon close inspection I noticed one of the onyx rooks had shifted position to block my bishop's advance. Now it would be an exchange of my bishop for that rook, but a black pawn would be laying in ambush the following turn. It would not be an ideal exchange and one which would likely be punished and lead to me losing control over half the board.

 

My frustration grew. This game was being drawn out for far too long. Most of it, however, came from the fact that my opponent is being obnoxiously shy today.

 

     “Minte, you don't have to stage a disappearing act after you've taken your turn,” I said, to the empty room.

 

I wasn't about to try contemplating how she managed to hide in plain sight like this, again. There weren't any shadowy corners of the room to hide in and I've already tried checking the ceiling, under the table and beneath the bed before. Hide and seek is not the game at hand though and I'm not about to be distracted from finding a way to pin down her down. She's no doubt roping me into a dope. Impatience here is what she wants. She hopes to force me into making a mistake. I could feel it in my bones, yet no matter what angle I tried she somehow managed to slip away.

 

Minte moving her rook like that was obviously a trap and one that I intended not to fall for. I could move my queen out of its defensive posture, but that would leave my king exposed and vulnerable. I'm down one bishop, one knight and both my rooks were long gone. What were left of my pawns were all scattered as well. That one night was stranded behind enemy lines. Safe, but gone if I moved it in any direction.

 

     “It's a stellar defense, but you are not thinking latterly enough,” a new voice interjected.

 

It was so unexpected, and so close, I startled and nearly jumped out of my chair. Looming over my shoulder were the long platinum blonde locks of Hyria. Her pale slender fingers caressing her chin contemplatively as her eerie white pupils swiveled to study the chess board. My jolting to attention caught her eye and graced me with that noble smile.

 

     “I'm sorry, I did not mean to startle you,” she said apologetically. “I foresaw you having this match and could not resist,” she said softly.

 

Foresaw. A strange word to use, but not out-of-place considering her abilities as a seer.

 

I was careful to be good-natured as I chided the Princess, “It may be your palace, but knocking on the door is basic hospitality.”

 

     “Oh ho ho ho,” she laughed mirthfully. “No need to worry, I would know if you two were being indecent,” she replied with a sultry voice.

 

I looked away with my face flushed red. Her soft and mature tone of voice had an unfair advantage to someone centuries her junior. The intonation of that last word alone kicked up a dust storm of lewd images. Seemingly content at the damage her playful jab had done, the Princess turned her attention back to the game at hand.

 

     “You are forgoing an important aspect of the game, Laven,” Hyria spoke as she emerged from behind me to the side of the table.

 

I could not help but watch as the heels crowning her lithe legs clacked against the floor not at all unlike the chess pieces moving across the board. A flutter of spectral energy revealed the ghostly claw surrounding her dainty hand. Hyria reached down with it and plucked one lone uncontested pawn in the sixth position and moved it forward into the seventh. I sprung up from my seat too late to stop her.

 

     “Hey—” I yelled in vain protest.

 

While I glared at the Princess for moving my pieces against my wishes, Minte materialized, as if out of the aether. Seated, calm, cool and collected in the opposing chair. She moved her queen aggressively across the table. The speed and confidence at which she did it made it clear it had been one of the traps she had laid. An opening she had been waiting for. There was nothing I had which could intercept that queen. Next move it could have my king in checkmate for sure. Although the look on her face is no different from any other time, the antenna atop her head seemed to be dancing to and fro.

 

Now Minte remained in her seat after her turn. Revealing herself when necessary and only right before the killing blow is to be struck. I turned my eyes over to her and she carefully watched the expression on my face. It was very clearly a cross between exasperation and resignation. Had I not known her as well as I did, the slight curl of her lip would have escaped me. She's already boasting about her imminent victory.

 

I gave her an opened palmed shrug. An extra millimeter difference was enough for her to express that 'I got you now' face. It wouldn't be prudent of me to raise a scene by kicking up a fuss over my turn being taken by the ruler of this land in whose house I was a guest. I had to let things play out. Besides, I had one turn left.

 

     Hyria looked down at Minte with a much more overt smile. “You are much too hasty, my dear,” she said, rather ominously.

 

Her ghostly claw pushed the ivory pawn again, this time into the eight position. Next she pressed down on it with her actual finger. It vanished into the flesh altogether as her nail clacked against the board. She withdrew it and an ivory figure of a knight remained which was identical to the real ones. Minte and I leaned over in unison. Our heads nearly colliding in the middle as we looked down at the board.

 

     “Double check,” Hyria declared. “Checkmate.”

 

It took me about ten seconds to study the board and see why. The new knight was unchecked and could move right onto black king. If black king moved, in the only way it could, it would put itself into check with my other lone knight. Minte and I turned our faces upward simultaneously and our eyes met a few centimeters apart. That ever so slight smile one her face had long since faded away. She plopped back down into her chair and made herself very small. Then she reached out with her finger and toppled the black king, signaling defeat.

 

     “What wonderfully exciting match!” Hyria said while nearly bursting with enthusiasm while clapping her hands together once.

 

I had to beat myself over the head due to missing—in hindsight—an obvious move. I was also still a bit upset she had butted into our game like that though. It made my victory mean little in my opinion. That didn't appear to be lost on Hyria, because she moved right along into matters of business instead of drawing out the celebration.

 

     “As much as I would have liked to spectate your game go on for another ten moves it would have taken, I had to bring it to a quicker conclusion.”

 

     “And who won that?” I heard Minte pout with a whisper.

 

     “I require your assistance with a very delicate matter.”

 

I looked back over at Minte who gave an ever so slight shrug of her shoulders. Her voice had been so quiet that not even Hyria had heard it. I looked back at Hyria whose eyes were locked right onto mine. I thought of bringing it up, but that matter had long since disappeared in the rear view mirror. That brief moment of delusion that it might not be me who gets pulled into another caper was vanquished.

 

     “I was hoping we could keep staying as guests...” I groaned. “Wasn't that part of the deal?”

 

     “This is a very rare opportunity that neither I, nor you, should forgo. I would have preferred to give you more warning, but time does not move so linearly... For some.”

 

Now that was characteristically cryptic. Not that it made me feel any better through familiarity.

 

     “I'm going to regret asking this... Who are you talking about?”

 

Hyria's mood improved as I feigned interest, “With none other than The Ebon Wing.”

 

     “That doesn't mean anything to me,” I replied.

 

     “That is not an uncommon answer,” she quipped. “The Ebon Wing is a rather... Exclusive organization. Conspiratorial, you might say?. A group of powerful and well connected magic users whose top members are vassals within the Monster Lord's very own court.”

 

Now that sounded rather important. It gave me the shivers merely thinking about it. For over two months now I've been slugging it through backwoods and been slugged over and over again when showing my face in what should be more civil civilized places. Were things finally looking up that I was being invited for once instead of crashing the part unannounced? I simply had to ask.

 

     “Okay, so how does this involve me? I'm no wizard. I think I'd qualify as the exact opposite... Is there's a word for that?”

 

     “I can only ensure you that the invitation was not directed toward me,” Hyria declared.

 

The gravity in Hyria's voice made me forget about that earlier optimism.

 

     “I merely received the message. And so now I convey it to you. My own presence is permitted due you you being my guest and I am thus obligated to ensure your safety so long as you remain here under my care and protection.”

 

     “Wait. Safety?” I said, the tone in my voice growing dire.

 

     “Your life is certainly not in danger... But—” her eyes wandered suspiciously away while breathing through clenched teeth. “—I cannot know for certain they will not try anything that would endanger your freedom. They can be a rather unpredictable set of individuals. Each with their own personal agenda despite their fierce loyalty to the Monster Lord.”

 

     “And what do I get in return? I'd mark myself as a rather tasty target if I were naive enough to wander into a place like that on good faith alone.”

 

Hyria's eyes lit up as I finally asked the important questions. I had a feeling this was meant to benefit Yaleria more than it would benefit myself or my friends.

 

     “Rather than ask why you are invited, you ask what you will get in return. I would not worry too much over your naivete, Laven.” Hyria smiled and joked at my expense.

 

I winced at how deep that one cut, but could not complain. She is right that I had jumped the gun a little.

 

     “Would I be wrong to assume it had something to do with Babel?”

 

     “No, you would be most correct. As for your original question, however, there is no shortage of magical knowledge and mastery within The Ebon Wing. More than what I or anyone else in Yaleria possesses. I cannot and will not force your hand, but I will implore you: With the encroachment of the Empire and the Church, Greater Yaleria will be besieged on three of the four cardinal directions. Our forces swell with each passing day, but a greater deterrent is need. I fear war may be inevitable, but I wish for my people to live in peace, even under the shadow of war, for as long as possible.”

 

     “And the Ebon Wing can provide this?”

 

     “The feats that magic are capable of haven't been properly demonstrated in nearly two full ages. If I use the right to study this Pillar of Babel as an enticement, I may be able to permanently house a number of their order. They would... not take kindly to distractions. A marauding army or the occasional raiders being among them.”

 

     “Wait,” I said, throwing up my hands again. “You are saying as if that's all an aside. Let's step back a bit. If all that were their intention all along, then they'd invite you... So why me?”

 

Hyria's bright face, in contemplation of a bright future, winnowed away before she spoke again, “Because it happened all thanks to you. I am sure they want to know how... And why.”

 

     “And they might want to—”

 

     “Pressure you into doing it elsewhere? Kidnap you if need be? A possibility,” Hyria declared with icy breath. “That is why I fear for your freedom. I felt obligated to warn you of at least that much.”

 

That certainly gave me cold feet. I hurriedly began to set the pieces of the chess board back into their original places. Something to keep my hands busy and my imagination went through every horrid bad end it could.

 

     “Well, I'm flattered a shadowy cabal of powerful and zealous magicians have shown interest in little ol' me, but I'm going to have to—”

 

     “—And to put Yaleria back onto the teleport network, which would allow you to bypass the Imperial forces quite handily.”

 

That stopped me in my tracks. I slowly put one of the white knights back down right in the middle of the chess board.

 

     “Say again?” I asked.

 

     “You seek safe passage to the Free Ports. I cannot guarantee direct passage so far south. But I am sure we can negotiate passage through a great many leagues south across the continent. Past the dangers posed along our borders... At the very least.”

 

The biggest obstacle so far in our journey so far. Waived away with the flick of a wizard's staff. That certainly was a juicy morsel I could not dismiss so readily.

 

     “But what about Medae? She can—”

 

     Hyria threw her finger up, nearly to my lips, and cut me off, “You have little understanding of the dangers involved with such magic is little. I say that not to mock you, but to warn you. Blind teleportation can cause... gruesome ends. Displacement caused by attempting to materialize where matter already exists can be quite... fatal.”

 

Now that I thought about it, the last time I was teleported I had been several feet up in the air. Not to mention outside. To think the trauma my back took from such a fall would be secondary to other complications...

 

     Hyria continued: “Mounds of dirt have been placed over many of the old nexus points. That would result in anyone careless enough to use them as an exit point to be buried alive on arrival. Other have had iron rods installed, for more unsavory ends. Monsterkind's knowledge of the field is greater than that of man, so most of the old network has been sabotaged in locations where the Imperial and Church presence is strong. For other locations, it is prudent to not risk it.”

 

So access to their well-guarded network to make the next leg of our journey possible and expedient. For our safety, I might have to stick my neck out for it. I let out a long sigh and made my decision.

 

     “Okay. I'm in.”

 

     “Excellent,” Hyria said, all smile. “We must be prepared and soon. There is no telling how soon our only chance to attend the banquet will arrive.”

 

     Hold on,” I said, far too many times today, “Banquet?”

 

     “A formal gathering,” Hyria replied, tilting her head in confusion at my own. “I shall be going as your sponsor, the chaperone. You as the guest... That leaves only your date.”

 

Minte had been sitting quietly as a fly on the wall. Unmoving, yet nonplussed, in her chair the whole time. It was her turn to nearly jump out of her skin as Hyria slyly drifted into position behind her and placed her icy chill and ethereal claws over her shoulders. She had not seen it coming and there was no escape so long as she had a grip on her like that.

 

Minte looked at me with pleading eyes full of panic.

 

     “A date?” I asked.

 

     “Yes,” Hyria replied with a smile.

 

     “With Minte?”

 

     “Is something the matter?” Hyria said, tilting her head inquisitively.

 

     “No for me, no, but for Minte—”

 

I tried to imagine it now. It wouldn't be my first rodeo. I had a gist of what to expect. When I imagined what that meant for Minte, however, the look of panic growing in her eyes made all the sense in the world. At last Hyria seemed to notice. She didn't relent though. She doubled down and made her case to the girl instead.

 

     “There is no one else I could ask,” Hyria pleaded softly to Minte.

 

She shook her head in response as she squirmed uncomfortably against the chilly and unholy strength of the wight's grip. Minte looked back at me with puppy dog eyes.

 

     “What about Rose, or Chris? They are magic users, right? How about—”

 

     “Insufficient for this occasion,” Hyria shot me down quickly.

 

     “I can't imagine why. If it's protection of knowledge about magic, Susan or Ba'el could—”

 

Hyria's eyes were level and straight. Given the nature of her eyes, the mere sight of them like that caused a twenty car pile up with the words in the back of my throat. I swallowed hard and waited for what she had to say. Her next words were unbelievably heavy.

 

     “There is but one woman present who has killed members of The Ebon Wing.”

 

For the first time in a long time I watched Minte's expression contort with pain. A profound look of shame shattered that emotionless stoic face of hers. All the strength left insectoid protrusions atop her head and dropped down limply. She had to look away once it became obvious. I'm sure the sight which stung my heart was nothing compared to the swell of painful memories flashing before her eyes at this very moment. I directed all of that into my own glare right back at the Princess.

 

     “Was that necessary?” I spat.

 

     “I'm afraid so,” Hyria replied coldly. “I can imagine no one else who can keep potential wolves at bay.”

 

Except Minte had made a silent vow not to kill ever again. I suppose they didn't need to know that though.

 

     “And her being there wouldn't be an act of open aggression?”

 

     “Laven, the fact that the Green Reaper has fallen in love is a secret no longer in circles who need to know of these things.”

 

Now Minte was looking away for a completely different reason. I could clearly see her ears had flushed red with her antenna pointing upward right at the ceiling.

 

     “They will not perceive her as a threat, but will respect what she is capable of if they were to... Be less than hospitable toward you,” Hyria said with a bitter smile. She then clapped her hands together twice and proclaimed, “Now that we have settled that, we have work to be done.

 

A veritable army had been waiting in the wings for that very signal. The door burst open and all manner of undead handmaidens poured forth. Their frilly maid clothing fluttered about as their banshee like wails of delightful giggling sundered all that silence from mere moments ago. They were mere accessories from the two figures whose presence stole the whole show. Two men dressed in the most ridiculous fashionista garb I've seen in person.

 

     “Finally, I thought I was going to keel over dead with boredom if I had to wait any longer,” one said with a lisp.

 

     “Oh stop, we don't get the chance to showcase our magic for such high rollers every day,” the other said with not only an identical voice, but the same lisp too.

 

They were twins. A pair of men on their way to middle age, but groomed to hold onto their youth for as long as possible. Their hair was slicked back with oil and so too were their salvador dali mustaches. The only things that made one distinguishable from the other was the direction it curved, up or down, and one dressed with red highlights while the other dressed in blue.

 

Like flies to honey they were soon magnetically affixed to me as they pulled and tugged at my clothing.

 

     “How boorish!” one proclaimed as he pulled at my shirt.

 

     “An interesting textile, but so low brow,” the other said while tugging at my jeans.

 

I knocked my chair over backwards as I leaped up and backpedaled nearly into the wall. It became obvious what a terrible idea that was afterward. Now I was surrounded on all sides by zombie maids with a solid stone wall behind me.

 

     “What the hell is going on?” I yelled.

 

     “Preparations for the ball,” Hyria replied, stifling a laugh with her hand covering her lips. “You cannot go as you are. That would leave a terrible impression. You will be there to be taken seriously.”

 

     “I already have—”

 

     “So old fashioned,” the upswung man said as he held the suit I had worn to Aaron's banquet.

 

     “The sewing is fabulous, but I'm afraid I have to agree. So last century,” the downward man added.

 

     “Hey hey!” I protested as my belongings were being sifted through without my permission. “Who the hell do you think you two are anyways?”

 

     “Oh, how rude of us!” the upward man squeaked. “I am Theodore Baltar, and this is my brother Dorian Baltar!”

 

     “The pleasure is all ours,” said the blue dressed man with a bow.

 

     “They are famous men of fashion from the Western coast city of Hruntern,” Hyria elucidated. “I have become their patron. I plan to put Yaleria on the map in terms of culture and the arts. I simply had to have these two.”

 

     “Princess, you flatter us,” the two men said in unison while blushing.

 

Theodore spoke first, “We've wanted to work with arachne silk—”

 

     “And weresheep wool for so long,” Dorian followed.

 

     “It is my pleasure,” Hyria beamed with a bright smile. “To business though... It's the work of the lady I need your help with,” Hyria said to the two men.

 

She gestured her hand toward the other chair, but it was empty now. The light vanished from her face and it somehow managed to get a bit more pale. Minte had pulled off her vanishing act, again. Somehow. She really was a master, because the whole room was crowded without a square inch to hide.

 

The wooden window shutters flung open and there were two skeletal soldiers with climbing equipment and a pair of nets. They shrugged their shoulders. Another troop of soldiers emerged from the door behind all the maids, also armed with nets, and also shrugged... Hyria really had prepared.

 

     “Curses,” Hyria said while biting her thumb. “How could she have—Fan out, she could not have gotten far!”

 

A few sentries guarded the two exits while the rest trundled off to go hunting. In the meantime Hyria began discussing matters with the two fashionistas. Likely trying to detail Minte in clearer detail so they knew were to begin once they find her; if they find her. By happenstance I happened take a glance upward and was not completely surprised by what I saw.

 

With her armblades drawn, Minte had driven them deep into the stone ceiling. The balls of her feet were likewise glued to the ceiling fifteen feet up. Her back arched in a way that would be excruciatingly painful to someone even slightly less flexible than her. She was completely still, except for her mantid abdomen coming out of her backside, it quivered and shook, silently, but incessantly.

 

Our eyes met and it is at that point she must have known the gig was up. Not because I'm going to rat her out, but because it's far too late for me to look away. Everyone else in the room must have seen me look up and followed suit. They remained silent at first. Perhaps a shared sense of awe at how she managed to get up there without anyone noticing. Hyria broke the silence by snapping her fingers.

 

     “Yes Princess?” A voice came from above.

 

Emerging from the ceiling were two ghosts, likewise dressed as maids. They quickly noticed they were not alone up there and there was an awkward moment as their upper halves stuck through the ceiling and were looking right at Minte who was attached to the ceiling.

 

     “Could you help the young miss down?” Hyria requested.

 

     “Certainly,” the other ghost said as she disappeared back into the ceiling.

 

Bit by bit Minte's blades scraped as they were being pushed down by the ghosts above her. She tried to fight back and drive them further, but she was outnumbered as two pairs of hands became four and then six. Soon they were free and before Minte could dig them in elsewhere, another pair of hands tore her feet from the ceiling. Nothing could stop her fall then, but like a cat she landed perfectly on her feet. Fast as she is, the girl couldn't move fast enough to escape the dogpile of maids. She put up a valiant effort, but the strength of the undead cannot be understated. They soon had her subdued, but not defeated as she clearly was ready to shake off and bolt at first opportunity.

 

Her eyes begged and pleaded me to help, but I was surrounded as well and couldn't do a thing.

 

     “Oh, look at those violet colored eyes,” Dorian cooed as she circled around Minte. “Oooh, I'm tingling just thinking of the compliments. But we must simply have to do away with these ragged and tattered clothes.”

 

I wasn't in any better predicament. Theodore closed in on me and got uncomfortably close. I got one good look at Minte as they dragged her out by her heels into another room. It took some work to pry her arms free when she managed to get a good hold of the door frame. She nearly took a piece of it with her.

 

     “Hard and rough on the outside, but soft inside,” he said looking past my eyes. “Now, to match those little sapphires of yours... What to do? What to do?”

 

The next few minutes were a living hell. Measurement after measurement. Pieces of clothing yanked off one by one. A chorus of giggling zombies, skeletons and ghosts abound. I was placed in front of a vanity at the end of it I at first wanted to die. Being forced to use a single word to describe it I would have to choose: baroque.

 

I felt as though I had stepped out of a period piece. Buckle shoes—with heels for fucks sake—baggy petticoat breeches, a short coat and a million yards of ribbon. At least I wasn't forced to wear a silly wig... again. I looked as though I would be home at Versailles. The thought made my self-conscious and the back of my neck ached.

 

     “Wonderful, simply wonderful!” Theodore gushed.

 

I had to get my hands in the way and push him back as he clearly couldn't help himself from trying to rub his cheeks affectionately against me. To my dismay no one helped to intervene and every present thought it was a funny sight. As if I didn't feel ridiculous and thoroughly embarrassed already.

 

My troubles didn't end until Hyria returned. She appeared to be more proud of herself than I had ever seen her before. The way she looked knowingly at me only partly prepared me for what was to come. Dorian followed her shortly after along with the entourage of maids.

 

     “Some of my finest work, if I may say so myself,” Dorian declared.

 

     “Oh, say it isn't so?” Theodore teased his brother.

 

     “The measurements of monsters are so perfect, so divine. I can't believe we toiled for years trying to polish stones when there were gemstones to be found. I present to you this flowering beauty!”

 

Nothing at first. Not on cue, at least. Yet he did not budge or react to how awkward it got with each passing moment. At last Minte was thrust into the room by force as the soldiers pushed her inside. Minte and sound had never gone hand in hand before, but the sound of a tall pair of heels clacking against the floor made it a first.

 

I expected my own predicament to be mirrored with her own at first, but some rules appear to be constant in this place. The most flattering part would have to be the corset which pushed her breasts up which was kept scandalously revealing by the brownish orange bare-bosom blouse over top of it. The ruffled sleeves reach down her arms, but stopped short of her wrists where the blades would have torn anything trying to take up the same space into pieces. They were still very much ready to snap into place at a moment's notice.

 

A flowing dress which dragged across the floor behind her, the same color as her blouse. It clung to her wide hips. A special cut had been made to allow her abdomen to stick out the backside. The skirt had been parted at the sides of the thighs to show them off every time she took a step forward. A pair of long stockings ran up the length of her legs so only a brief and enticing flash of her white skin escaped.

 

Besides that were so many ribbons. There was a distinct lack of a hat or headdress, but I suppose that would only get in the way of her antenna which were more than animated enough and anything would merely get in their way. Her hair had also been tied up by a bow, gathered together at the nape of the neck into a short tail. The red silken bow around her neck had been the only thing that remained.

 

My mind went back to the time she had twirled about with that dress. She looked embarrassed, but almost happy, until she locked eyes with me. She turned around and tried to run, but Hyria was there on the intercept. Her ethereal claw pushed with quite a bit of force, enough to have her stumble backwards all the way over to me. I managed to catch her and she went limp in my arms.

 

I could feel the heat radiating off her. Her whole face went a deeper shade of red as she twirled about and looked at me. She was far from being steady on her feet so I held on tight and she reciprocated by becoming magnetically attached as she wrapped her arms around me.

 

     “Wonderful,” Hyria gushed as everyone else present in the room agreed.

 

I could feel all the admiration and jealousy hit us in waves.

 

     “Now all we need to do is—Oh, it appears they already know.”

 

Before I could even dare to ask what she meant, the room became deathly silent once again. A crackle of energy ruptured the very air itself. The tendrils of what looked like lightning at first became clear geometric shapes, circles mostly. I had seen their likes before. They were magic circles. Focal points for magic. They shifted, spun and rotated in unison; an intricate dance I could not hope to begin understanding. Out of nothing a door had been carved in the middle of the room. The thing was two dimensional. An impossibility. You could approach it from in front, but is so flat it's invisible from the side.

 

Hyria emerged from behind it and completed the spell with a short uttered cantrip. It stabilized the portal and became a true dimensional door. It shimmered like the surface of a pond. If there existed a pond which shone with such a pure and brilliant shade of blue. It had the same feeling as the one leading into Ba'el's own private domain.

 

     “Let us not keep them waiting,” Hyria said as she beckoned us.

 

She vanished into it and disturbed the surface in doing so that it became a swirling void before suddenly returning to its previous state. Minte and I looked one last time at one another. We had come this far already, so hesitating now would be rather unbecoming. If this foray into the unknown could help our friends and our benefactors then it is something we simply had to do. I grabbed hold of her small delicate hand and she squeezed me tight in turn. Our fingers intermingled and arm in arm we stepped forward and crossed the threshold.

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