The dinner table was quiet as people ate. A messenger had arrived and whisked Typhon away. Something at the Temple she was needed for. Emmeline took the liberty to send a report back on the Hag attack. Poor Felix left with Typhon to journey back home, promising to be of service to the group should they wish him. He owed them his life, not knowing that the destruction was as much due to the party being hunted. The Parson was in with Elemix, helping with his recovery.
Mazarin de Garin, Emmeline’s uncle, and his wife Beatrice were at one end of table. Spaced along the rest was Therise (32) and her husband Ronan, Josephine (29) and her husband Bruno, Germain (24), Maurice (15) who was Mirel’s twin, Chandler (14) and the one non-de Garin – Renee (16). Emmeline sat next to Renee and Chandler on the far end. Mazarin’s children by his first wife were not here. The sounds of young grandchildren could be heard from the other room.
Mazarin broke the silence.
“Hmm. Sorry that Cora, Jean, and Udo couldn’t be here. Busy they are with their own families I’s suppose. They said they be stopin’ by to see ye t’morra. Germain here be shippin out on the Indefatigable in a few days. If ye don’t mind, I’d like ya to take ‘em with ya back to City.”
Emmeline looked at Germain. “Of course. Are you going … to Adera?”
He shook his head, “Nope. All I know is that we are leaving toward the south. Escort duty and seeking pirates they say. But an awful lot of ships left a few weeks ago already, probably not much to do and pretty boring. Rather stick around and hunt down the ones that attacked you and yours.”
“I hope your trip is very boring and that you never, ever, see what it was that attacked us, Germain,” Emmeline said quietly. “We only lived because I was able to turn a sailor into an orca and because I can fly. For a very short time. You saw what happened to Elemix. The captain of that vessel and the other sailors weren’t so lucky. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else. Be assured one day I will deal with that so-called ‘sea god’.”
Germain nodded, though Emmeline could tell he longed for action. Mazarin spoke up and said, “Perhaps, perhaps not. The way Mirel’s last letter sounded, it seemed you’ve got a good thing goin’ up yonder there. People like you. Despite what me’thinks aboutt your ‘arrangement’ with that Baron, what I think of your crazy grandmother, and what I think of this magic-thing you do, I want ya to be happy. We all do. But ya can’t be happy if you are always fightin’. You need to cultivate your happiness and let it grow. That means a place you stay. That means land. That means a husband and a baby.”
“I would be happy just performing and singing my songs again, uncle. And I do get to do that, too. It’s not all fighting for my life. I’ve grown a lot over the past year, in many ways. I know the Baron loves me and that will have to be enough for now.”
Her uncle nodded and the dinner talk segued to local gossip, family chats, and who was doing what. Later as the stars came out and the sound of the ocean echoed in the distance, Emmeline and Uncle Mazarin walked under the moonlight uncle to niece, discussing the farm and more. At one point, the old man said, “Emmy. Methinks you’d have made your mother proud. Your father too. He didn’t abandon you ya know. He was trying to make money to support you. It just didn’t work out. Now, I was not as successful then, but I would have taken you in. And when your grandpa died I did; but you were a rambunctious sort. Always disobeying and carrying on. You got five years of a father, eight of a grandfather, six of an uncle and now a year out on your own. And its been a risky year. I hear tale that your cousin on your mother’s side there has been mostly dead three times?”
Emmeline nodded. “Yes. But I’ve got his back. And we’ve always been able to get him back on his feet. He’s a wizard, which means he has lots of power, but that makes him a target, too. I just try to make myself less of a target, and I don’t like to spread it around that I’m a member of the Wizard’s Guild. I only want to be flashy when I’m playing my violin.”
She turned suddenly and gave him a hug. “Uncle? Grandmother, the Contessa, is looking into Father’s disappearance. I gave her the lead you gave me.” She looked at him, biting her lip trying to decide if she could take the risk of casting Dream for him or not. The Temple had said it was possible it could be noticed and she didn’t want to get into more trouble. The fact that it would also eat into recovery time, preventing the kind of rest she needed to recover from the wounds she received on the ship, was secondary to her.
Mazarin gave her a slightly uncomfortable hug that slowly became more so.
“I know a spell, Uncle. A very complicated spell that very few spellcasters my age can handle. Actually I don’t know of any spellcasters my age that can cast it. With this spell I can speak to people in a dream, if they are alive and if they are asleep at the time. But I can also bestow this on someone else — make them the message for one dream…”
He looked quizzical, saying, “I don’t quite understand.”
“What I mean is, I can’t remember my father. So I can’t reach him. You are the only one that could do it. If I cast this spell for you, and he is still alive out there, then we would know for sure. It would… take away any doubt. If he isn’t alive, then we won’t know anything about what happened or when he died or anything like that at all. It might be worse than not knowing. And, I should tell you that the Aegis is up. That means there are magical defenses up on this Island and I could get into trouble for casting a spell that penetrates it. I feel like a coward to say it…” She shook her head. “But I will do it anyway if you want this.”
She looked up at him, dead tired, beat up and still badly singed from the final lightning bolt that hit her.
With a swoop, the old man picked her up and began to walk her back to the house, “You first need to rest. My house, my rules. You had a full day and you have to take care of yourself first. Tomorrow evening, when you are rested and back from the fields, then we can try this ‘dream’ idea. I remember my brother well and the last thing he would want to do is let me let you wear yourself out or catch a death a’cold. Agreed?”
“But Uncle tomorrow…” She worried that she would lose a day. But tomorrow was Friday and the formal wasn’t until Saturday night. Perhaps she could rest now and hurry back on Saturday and make it in time for the formal. “No you are right. I’ll be useless without rest.”
Mazarin brought Emmeline back to the homestead and placed her in her old bed. In his grumpy way he said “well, sleep now… Breakfast will be there for you.” After he left and just before she could fall asleep she heard in her mind, ‘can save Gustave need you to convey that to Tyaan tell her to welcome two women and a man using code ‘Phoenix rising west’.
Another message followed the first – ‘Get Thal to meet our people. Find out where would be out of the way. Code ‘A girl returns.”
Emmeline made a response, knowing she had very limited time to do so. She hoped they received, “Messages will be delivered this night.”
Emmeline then turned to Renee. “I depend on you so much anymore,” Emmeline whispered. “But I need you again. My work is not yet finished.” Emmeline moved to an upright sitting position. “I’m going into a trance. If I topple that means I’m going to sleep and I can’t do that until I’m done. Nudge me a little but don’t startle me out of the trance. That should keep me awake enough to do what I must. As always, awaken me if there an emergency.”
Renee nodded, getting up from her bed in her nightgown and taking a guarding position at the door. “Ready,” she whispered.
Em concentrated on her spell. First was the message to Desmodia.
After setting the scene as before, Desmodia recognized Emmeline. “You are back?”
Emmeline new better than to ever look anything but strong, powerful and without any weakness to a Tyaanite. And in this dream, she did. While the setting was the same, Emmeline portrayed herself as a White Witch of War, clad in her white armor and dark green cloak, she carried a mask the provided a hauntingly artistic impression of a fey face in one hand and the complex-seeming Rowan Rod in her other hand.
Emmeline nodded. “We have decided Gustave will be saved. Please welcome among you two women and a man. They will offer you the code, Phoenix Rising West.”
Desmodia looked very confused at the look, as if it was completely foreign to her. “Is this how you really are?” she asked before saying, “What do you need of us? Of me?”
“This is how I look when I prepare for war,” Emmeline told Desmodia. “The three that are being sent to you can explain more. I can’t tell you if I’ll be among them or not. But for now, remember the code I gave you.”
“I will. You should know something is up. They moved the general and several ouf our people into the no man’s land. They are preparing something.” she replied.
“Thank you Desmodia. Before I go, are there any other messages you wish to pass on through me?” Emmeline asked.
“Just this. You are outfitted for war, but you do not know war. Not really. Neither does Thalassa. War is coming and the refugees and raiders are just the beginning. Rumor has it that the new leader of Maelith is reaching out to the disaffected, many of whom do not care for what Thalassa stands for. Be warned that the terror visited upon my people will soon be visited upon yours.” she replied.
Emmeline tilted her head curiously, wondering what made Desmodia think she knew Thalassa’s level of preparedness. Was Desmodia hinting she might side with the new leader of Maelith? Em felt cold in the pit of her stomach.
“I have been in battles and I have seen great suffering. I’ve seen ones I love cut down by enemy soldiers. I know war brings more of all that. My home does not lie in the soft cushions of a far-away city. My home lies on the very edge of the Periphery where a storm of violence always hangs and often clashes, where tree and stone reach the sky. Thalassa is aware of what you speak and has been preparing. The armies that are coming are led not by politicians or bookish wizards. They are led by hardened and determined warlords. Thalassa will destroy her enemies. She will aid her allies.”
Even if Thalassa had to fall under the sway of a dictator that rebuilt the republic into an empire? The thought flit through Emmeline’s mind and not for the first time. History seemed to warn that an empire born of war would live only so long as war could continue. And if the civilized world remained aflame, the war forges of empire could burn a very long time.
“Desmodia, I know holding on is hard. You want to find a way to win but do not yet see it. Give these three individuals a chance. They will rescue General Gustave and you will yet have your opportunity to win back the city.”
“Conquer the city you mean,” Desmodia corrected. “This is not our city, it is the Storuvani’s, but it will be ours as they lost their rights the second the betrayed us. What we will do to them will terrify all around, and we will do anything to survive. I’ll help your people get the General, but I doubt he will let us have the city. He is still one of them, albeit an enlightened one like you seemed to be. My question to you is this – as we help you, what for us? What for this new tribe forged by fire and strife; the abandoned, the Maha-jäe in our tongue. What does Thalassa promise us? I have nine thousand survivors will little food. If it means our survival I will without hesitation ally with the Ulan-Khatai, Hordes, or even the Orcs if it means survival. What option for us?”
“Most of the options you name would likely mean slavery or death for your people. Thalassa wouldn’t do that to prisoners, conquered people, and especially not allies. Can you say the same for those you named?”
“Right now that is exactly what we face with the Storuvani. If we are to die, I’d rather go down fighting than waste away. You seem powerful. Could you not call on your allies, be they Thalassan or not, to intervene on our behalf and help us seize this city?” She asked. Despite her Tyaan religion she seemed to genuinely care about het people. “I just don’t understand how rescuing the general helps anyone, us especially.”
Emmeline hesitated. She didn’t want to promise things she had no control over nor give false hope. But perhaps there was something she could say. “I have let it be known what Storuvan did to you and your people. I believe I have convinced the leadership that the Herzogs are not our allies nor even good for their own people. I have done everything I know to focus Thalassa on helping you and your people. Right now, Thalassa’s armies and navies are massing across the entire Periphery and the city herself is already geared and armed for war. This has been happening for months now.
“I am trying everything I know to convince our warlords that your strength and continued survival are vital to our war effort. I’m not a warlord but they are listening. I’m working with people to end the siege of Adera quickly and with minimum bloodshed because a pitched battle there will only delay help for Storuvan. The armies are coming. My lover is among their leaders.”
She hesitated. If things became truly desperate and Thalassa could not save them in time, might she call in a favor? Might she be able to convince John Brennius to intervene? But calling on him like that was never something she intended to do, especially not for a potential enemy like Desmodia. But if it meant Storuvan could be turned into an eastern stronghold that could improve the odds of her lover coming home safely, how could she not try? She decided to put the thought aside for now, however.
“Three will come. Remember two women and a man. ‘Phoenix Rising West’. They may have more answers for you.”