What seemed like menacing footsteps moments before had become almost impossibly slow footfalls now. Almost a full minute had passed and she hadn’t yet reached me. I looked toward Leon and his face showed a look a distinct confusion that could only mean he didn’t understand what he was seeing either.
A few moments later, with Minhago no closer to us, the air directly around us started to shimmer. It formed into the bodies of two people – Calder and the Aroden Priest that we had found in the worldwound temple. The priest had disappeared in as a strange and mysterious way as we had originally found him. It didn’t seem that the priest before us had the same loopy personality though. His voice boomed accusing us of fouling up everything that we had worked for and for having no forethought whatsoever. I wasn’t inclined to disagree with him, especially after seeing the shimmering form of Calder next to him. Calder seemed more of a spirit than a human. I knew he couldn’t be alive, the still-crumbling dust of his mortal body was right at my feet.
I took solace in seeing this spirit of Calder though. It was not a dead soul on its way to Pharasma, I knew that for certain. It was some other form of existence. Knowing that Calder was born of a God and was standing before me, I couldn’t rightly call him “dead.” That wasn’t was he was. Perhaps there wasn’t a word for what he was. The priest continues to yell at us. I feel the weight of his accusations, but the pool of guilt after seeing all my friends die while I still lived was fathoms deeper than raindrops of insults he gave us. I saw the form of Calder whisper into the priest’s ear, and the being suddenly stopped his barrage.
If he said anything before the passage of time reversed I don’t remember what it was. Everything was always “10s of minutes” ago with that priest. Time was not the same with him as it was with us, and apparently he afforded us the opportunity to correct our mistake.
There was no visual effect of time loss. One moment I was surrounded by death with Calder’s corpse dust covering my boots, and the next I was sitting again in the lounge of the manor house. I heard the click of the key locking us in the room just as I had the first time we were in the room. My mind suddenly ached as if it were pierced by a spike and my heart drummed as my too-slow consciousness struggled to figure out what had happened and why I was here now. Calder wasn’t with us in this room but otherwise it was just the same as it had been.
I wanted to cry but I was stunned into inaction. The image of Minhago’s black and poisoned blades embedding themselves into Gaius’s chest, the angel Sielle’s body, into Calder’s arm and back… they all replayed in my mind, over and over until I felt like being sick. The visual image sickens the mind and soul, but the sound, the THUMP and crack of bones, the sound of heads falling to the ground as the neck that once held them dissolves… that sickens the body. And everyone who died was a friend – family really. They were my life. I didn’t deserve to be alive when I failed them. I don’t know how long I sat in stunned silence. The priest hadn’t told us that time had rewound, it became apparent when my angelic golden-haired twin appeared at the door. She told us much the same thing that she had the first time we saw her.
Hope blossomed in my eyes as a few uncontrolled tears. I wiped them away, but she noticed. I stood up and walked toward her, and looked her over as I hadn’t dared to do last time. I told her that it was a strange and powerful experience finally meeting one person who looked like me. Through the risks and battles, the near-death experiences, mind control, slaying of a chimera, seeing fear in Avashniel’s eyes over a rival wizard… really my concern with how “other” I looked had moved to the bottom of the list of things that concerned me. Certainly being an assimar had been incredibly useful at times too. But there is still a background of loneliness of being different, a lifetime of feeling that way doesn’t go away in a month. Seeing another face that mirrors your own after living that way was shocking and uplifting, and seeing her alive after you watched her die in agony moments ago was emotional whiplash. I tried to tell her how I felt about seeing a familiar face, but I could tell that she didn’t understand. Of course, she’s never lived that way.
We all decided that knowledge and forethought, the very things that the priest accused us of lacking, was going to have to be the way to get a different result. Clearly Sir Durgo would not be convinced that what he was told was wrong. There wasn’t anything in the world that would convince Sir Durgo that his beliefs were wrong. Instead we had to show him things that he didn’t know already – prove to him with evidence that not that his beliefs were incorrect but that there were additional motes of information that he should see and process. We were going to give him enough evidence so that he would have to conclude what we already knew was true – that he was being manipulated by Zanthir Vang.
I started off the talks with Sir Durgo. I think I was easier to listen to because of my appearance. It was clear to me that the machines were created by Zanthir Vang, but proving it was more difficult. I tried to tell him that while the machines were likely doing what he was told they were doing (sending souls to fight in heaven) they were also doing something terrible here. After a time, Leon cut in and said that Zanthir Vang often used worms in his work and if we opened one of the machines then perhaps there would be evidence. Sir Durgo was reluctant, but allowed Leon and Melisande to use magic to see behind the wall near the control panel. I believe Melisande was even able to extract a worm using magic. Eventually Sir Durgo allowed them to take the cover of the machine off, and saw that the machine was infested with these worms.
He said quietly that it wasn’t the deal he had made, but he still didn’t seem convinced that these worms were evil or doing something horrendous. I mentioned that there was a cave in Claw Mountain that had evidence of what the worms could do. I was sure the corpses of thousands of worms were still there, along with the machine, and some parts of the woman who had burst. I thought about how we had lost weeks of time in there, and almost thought to try to trick him into entering the cave without us. While he looked around we would have weeks to save our friends. It didn’t feel right though. I warned him that we had trouble with time the last time we were there.
It didn’t take long for him to accept our evidence once he saw the cave interior. I had a knot inside me the entire time; it was extremely difficult not to be frustrated and pushy.
Eventually, Sir Durgo relented. He said that he would help us with our friends, and would tell us how they may be restored. He did know how to reverse the machine (so angels do lie!) and did so, but they still did not wake. He told us that we had to slay a large woundworm and take the blood from its heart and then it would need to be refined properly into a cure. We had only a few weeks to accomplish the task before they would all die permanently.
We had perhaps ten days to save Arushalae and two weeks to save our friends. One required breaking a siege of an army of demons, the other required killing one of the most powerful creatures in the world wound.
We sat in Melisande’s carriage going back to Drezen from Claw Mountain. I couldn’t help but feel despair. I knew our friends were not dead, and would get the help they needed now but seeing them die replayed over and over in my mind. Seeing Minhago tear my friends and the angels apart reminded me that despite the power that my Goddess and the Wardstone gave me…there were still great threats in the world. Perhaps even threats that I couldn’t save my friends or myself from.
It seems like I find myself on already walking down the path to face those impossible villians. Would I throw myself in front of Minhago just to save others? I’m certain I would. Is there any life out there that isn’t faced with pain and violence almost daily? It’s hard to imagine. In fact, I couldn’t really imagine it at all. Perhaps that’s why I cling to the love I feel for Avashniel so ferociously – it’s the only thing I have that isn’t fear and pain and terror. It’s a taste of the world away from here, a world I’ve never known. I closed my eyes then and tried to picture the moment he kissed me in the dragon’s cave. It was hard to do, it had been one single moment in a lifetime of terrors. But it was good, and pure and I would not forget it.