It took too long to repair the damages from the portal. The earth was black. The nearby trees were ash. Each house was scorched and either partially collapsed or completely destroyed.
Those who could fled. Those who would protected those who could not. Willow remembered hearing a voice warning her of a terrible danger. She looked up to see bulbous black clouds materializing directly above them. The other villagers were keenly aware, but her shouted command to run alerted them to act.
It was quiet. The Valley is known to be a sanctuary of peace and temperance. When the yellow light pierced the ground like lightning, even the children didn’t scream. When the fiends and devils spewed from the corrupting light, they found tough foes. Despite being a secluded village upon a holy site, the denizens were as fierce as any warrior. The time Brightwood spent training his children, his siblings, and his peers was clearly time well-spent. Though he wasn’t here for this atrocity, everyone else took up the mantle of a leader to protect their home and their families.
Quickly a losing battle, they fled into the distant forests in any direction. The clouds above spread like a swarm of flies, rapidly infecting the sky. It felt like days that they ran and hid. The smaller and quicker fiends were batted away from the children. Willow counted the heads of her many half-siblings. Their mothers as determined to protect them as she. Willow was quickly running out of breath, mentally unprepared for such a sudden disaster to strike them and threaten everything she knew. And she couldn’t stop thinking about her father. What would he do?
She tripped on an unearthed root and hit the forest floor hard. Her forehead touched the dirt from the impact, leaving a brown mark on her brow. She looked up and turned around. A bright flash shone through the forest from their village. And as quickly as the black clouds spread above them, they disappeared.
She realized the air had been filled with sulfur and soot. She surprised herself with a sneeze, learning the inside of her nose and mouth were coated with ash. She coughed. She continued coughing until she vomited black. She looked up to see others doing the same. Those that managed to cover their mouths and noses seemed unaffected. Her eldest half-brother, Duer, approached to help her up and to get her to breathe normally.
The silence didn’t cease. It was too soon for such a devastating threat to be neutralized. She thought how the light must have been Scathach, and that was why she was told to run. She looked around at the gathering children beginning to surround her. Another headcount. “Where’s Iden”
Her voice was a screeching caw cutting through the silence. A few eyes looked at her with concern. The others only watched the forest line and listened to the air, too skeptical to believe they were no longer being pursued. Willow’s head scanned the area. All were still. She began to walk through the crowd of her siblings and toward the village, newly determined to find her missing brother.
The crowd behind her was much more hesitant than she. Their footfalls were quieter and more deliberate. They flowed around the trunks and avoided the low hanging branches as if to begin to mourn with silence those who they’ve yet to learn to have lost. The ground grew black and the trees grew ashen as they continued toward their home. The smell of cleansing fire filled the air and the yellow light was extinguished. The daylight returned to them soon.
The boys ran all around him. They were sweaty, some were smeared with dirt and some wore fresh wounds. Willow worked them well. They called out to their father to join them at the western bank, their designated bathing area. He interrupted his meditation and rose calmly to follow the high energy of the children.
Most of them he’d sired. Many of them were his nephews. To only a few he wasn’t directly related. He knew them all very well. With all the training and play and work they did every day they were turning out to be competent despite all of them being under the age of 12. His chest became ablaze with pride as they continued to play in the river or help the other boys with their injuries. Some stole their clothes off the bank and threw them into the river and laughed as they watched the current take them away. They laughed harder as the victim raced to retrieve them. Some of the older boys raced to see who could get it faster.
Brightwood’s bare feet skated over the rushing water. He scooped up the small clothing and leapt to the other side of the river. The racing boys stopped when they realized their goal had been taken from them. They looked up at the patriarch of the Valley and whined and shouted at the unfairness. Brightwood just smirked and began to pace back up the river to lay the clothes out in the sun. He then removed his own clothes to meditate in the river.
The soft coolness flowed around his body. The boys splashed and screamed around him. He could feel the power of Scatach fill his muscles and reinforce his bones. He could feel her hair as his own and her touch across her cheek. It all went silent for him.
He didn’t know how long it’d been since he fell into this meditation. When he opened his eyes, all the boys had assumed similar positions within the river, meditating as their father, uncle, and patriarch. He rose quietly and turned around to be met with a foreign yet familiar figure standing just off the bank.
“Brother Brightwood” Akacen said, greeting him with a bow.
This simulacrum was used to the rather liberal Valley, rarely phased by the unclothed man. Brightwood began to dry himself off with a piece of his clothing. It was the one Akacen remembered him wearing during the cold months during their time on Scilira. He couldn’t be sure what it was called, as it seemed like an enlarged scarf connected into a circle.
“Headmaster,” Brightwood greeted back in a stern and deep tone.
“I was wondering if you’d be willing to meet with me back in the Eastern Reaches. I know you haven’t the fondest opinion of the place, but there is something I wish to share with you.”
Brightwood dried his face, darker than Akacen remembered. Staying so long in the Valley and living how he enjoyed living, his dark skin tanned even darker. His hair, however, was highlighted by the sun. It was still twisted in the same long braid, but the coarseness was easier to see, now. His eyes looked brighter, somehow, when he finally turned to look at Akacen. They were softer. But he seemed larger than before despite Akacen being used to craning his neck to look upon Brightwood.
“Does it put my family or my home at risk?” His stare was almost paralyzing.
“It very well could, the nature is similar.”
Brightwood’s large chest pushed out in a deep breath. He sighed silently, exhaled slowly as he considered his answered.
“I will gather some things and say goodbye to my family. Meet me at my home and we will leave thereafter.”
Akacen bowed deeply, understanding all too well how conflicted his friend must be to return to the place where he died thrice and was resurrected twice. The last time, Akacen had done it in person in Tierm. His good will, determination, and righteousness was not enough to compensate for his rashness and confidence. It was all he could do to not openly sob as he approached the river once more.
He didn’t spend much time saying farewell to his children and their mothers. It was intimate in their own way, but even Akacen was surprised at how brief it seemed.
He was wearing the same type of clothing. The only thing different was a backpack that pulled against his bare skin with an amount of weight that he betrayed with his posture. Akacen had begun to perform the spell to Teleport them to his destination. Brightwood stood surprisingly close to Akacen at the spell’s activation.
He put his backpack down in a nearby dorm room. There was much more activity than he remembered. But he made his way up the foreign yet familiar staircase that followed the cylindrical walls of this Scolia Arcana. The banquet and study hall had students pacing around, practicing and reciting Arcane findings at each other. Students, Brightwood thought was interesting. Last he knew this Scolia Arcana was dying.
The third floor was harshly silent. His bare feet could not be heard slapping against the stone steps and then the stone floor. “Greetings, Headmaster. Headmistress.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
His voice was level. Uninterested. Bored, even.
“Nor should you.”
Her voice was stronger. Demanding.
“You don’t have that authority, miss. Why don’t we just go up to the barracks together. I’d rather this not be more tedious than it already is.”
“You don’t have the balls, sir” she said to mock his apparent lack of age. “You couldn’t touch me if you tried for 10 years!”
“Ah! Fuck! Fucking bastard!” she started to scream, her voice echoing against the concrete sewers all around them. She barely heard leather zip against leather before finding a knife in her thigh.
“Didn't have to be so difficult.” His voice was deeper now. Threatening.
She was silenced. Muffled. An arm wrapped around her head and over her mouth while her arms were grappled behind her. A foot kicked at the back of her knee, forcing her to stumble. She got the hint and began walking forward. She screamed and fought as much as she could, but this was clearly not the first time he’d caught someone like her. The inside of his elbow was reinforced with an additional layer of leather. He couldn’t feel her gnawing at it. He forced her arms up from behind her, causing her more pain if she fought too much.
“Alright, gents. Come get the bitch!” he called up through a manhole.
The gray light of the evening cast down through the hole. It lit the bars of the ladder unevenly. Two City Watch came down, unaffected by the deceitful lighting. The first one managed to cuff the woman while Tumise still grappled her as if they’d done this every day. The second made sure she didn’t run away as she was released from the grapple.
“Gah. This one’s a right nasty cunt!” the second Watch said as her face touched the light when she was pushed forward.
Her face was plain. Her hair was a nest. Her skin was pale. What came out of her mouth was the most offensive. She kept calling for Vargrimst, for his justice, or power, or whatever. He wasn’t really listening anymore. They all said the same things.
Tumise slipped his dagger out of her thigh before she pulled away. He put a hand on the Watch’s shoulder, keeping him from moving. A piece of cloth was tied tight around the thigh to keep it from bleeding too much.
“Why bother? Just let the cunt bleed. Less work for us.”
“You know this isn’t really her,” he said plainly. “Make sure you actually get this one to Professor Illyis.”
He walked back into the sewers before they could retort further.
Professor Humplebumple made short work of reconstructing the city. It was clear that she’d had plans for this reconstruction for quite some time, considering how quickly she made the city better than new. Streets were reconfigured for ease of flow. Buildings held more consistency between them while still having individuality. It was a brand new city. It had to be considering the utter destruction of it all. Not only that, the Scolia Arcana was expanded and new Schools added. She and the other Professors worked to elect heads of these schools. Each discipline would be represented at the Scolia Arcana of Tierm, even Necromancy. They would be known throughout the continent in not only being able to do so, but also choosing to do so.
Caelynn made it her priority to oversee the mass Transmutation of the city while her Lieutenant, Tumise, worked to clean up the corruption of that yellow demon light. She let him work more closely with Ghesh so Tumise would learn to appreciate her more. The Transmuter students were learning quickly as if practice and necessity accelerated one’s ability to learn. She hoped Tumise was going through a similar transformation.
The swarms of people that were teleported back from the Valley with the help of Lorilla couldn’t fill the city proper. It showed both how much Lilli and her students expanded the city as well as how few people survived the invasion. At least they fared better than Golabah. It was too bad that most of them settled permanently in the Common South rather than return to Scilira. Those that returned were absorbed into Tierm’s population. Efforts to rebuild Golabah and even Loughlof Town were postponed until further notice.
“Captain, may I have a moment?” He bowed.
Caelynn knew this was only a simulacrum. Akacen would never address her so formally, and nor she him. Her heart still sank, though, knowing he hadn’t yet returned. “Yes, Headmaster.”
“I’d like to see you in the Eastern Reaches. While Tierm is aptly rebuilding and finding a state of normalcy once more, I’m hoping you’ll find the time to help elsewhere.”
She sighed but kept an even face. She remembered her outburst. She remembered holding Brightwood’s body in her arms. She remembered sobbing so hard that her throat swelled until she could no longer make sound. The familiar feeling of her heart breaking while seeing Isshyim fall and then rise came back hard.
She took a deep breath. “We’ll see. I’ll gather Tumise and Kephalos to go with me.”
“Even better. I’ll meet you at the Spire, then?”
Caelynn didn’t answer. She took a sharp turn on the balls of her feet and pointed to one of the City Watch to fetch her Tumise and Kephalos. If they didn’t make her regret taking Akacen up on this offer, they certainly would.
They found rooms for themselves, though Kephalos and Tumise had to share, to place their belongings before heading up the stairs to the third floor where this meeting would be held.
Tumise was relatively glad to be back home - longed to return to his actual home and change it for the better. Kephalos was impressed with how much it’d developed since he’d first come here. They were putting in as much work as they were back home.
“Hello Akacen,” Caelynn announced in a teasing tone and a playful smile. “And hello, Headmistress. It’s good to see you alive again,” she said. It might have sounded unnecessarily informal, but those that knew her knew how serious this statement was. It was her way to continue to cope with the events that occurred.
The Princess of Storms was beautiful. She wished to stay in her presence forever. But she was pulled back to the Prime Material after a single breath.
These mountains were steep, bare. She looked around at those who looked upon her with caring eyes. She looked up at the whipped clouds against the pale blue sky. The sun shone white. The stone beneath her was solid and unmoving. She looked down at herself. The bold reds and muted oranges of her dress proved to her how peaceful she was in death. She was no longer afraid of it.
“You bring me back for more work?” she asked rhetorically. “Fine.” She smiled, though. Warm.
Her smooth face betrayed her age as it had when she’d first accepted the crown. Her hands were soft and without a blemish. The brown-green pigment looked lush over the slate of the earth beneath her.
“It is by Diancecht’s decree that you undo what you’ve unjustly done.”
The creature hovered over the stone, as if deigning to touch it would reduce its purity. She twisted her neck toward the creature. “Merzi,” she said with a modest bow.
Her hair fell over her shoulders. The wide ringlets as defined and regal as ever. She allowed the volume of it to remain over her shoulders as she shifted to face the others who were also resurrected. Her delicate feet clicked forward. She rose a hand over their heads and released the scent of nutmeg and the seeds of a dandelion as she did so. She brought both hands under their chins and extended to them warmth and comfort as her Princess had done for her upon her arrival to the Elemental Planes.
She then turned. “High Priest Tiadar. High Priestess Taidra. Are you ready?”
The Temple of Ledwonnú saw more patrons in the past week than it had in its lifetime. Wynlynn’s final Wish was to undo her Meteor Swarm that she’d cast on the city. Now she put all of her energy into resurrecting the churches, if not the people themselves. Tiadar and Taidra proved highly competent in seeking out hidden worshippers of the other Gods that had survived the culling of religion and then the dissolution of the region. They were gathered to Arhew to discuss their roles and hierarchy. They could rebuild how they saw fit. They could take leadership roles throughout the region, but within reason, of course.
Ultimately, they were the heart of the Eastern Reaches. They would be ones to mend hearts and console the broken and find the lost. While laborers rebuilt structures, the religious leaders would rebuild spirit.
During one such effort, a banquet hosted by Wynlynn herself, an unexpected visitor approached her as she worked on baking rolls and pies.
“Priestess Casilltenira, might I have a moment?”
She spun around with a fair smile on her face and in her eyes. Some sweat sparkled on her brow, proving how long she’d been working these ovens. She handed the large bowl she was mixing batter in to a halfling who anticipated the situation before Wynlynn could.
“Ah, Awoan! Good of you to join. Shall I fetch Tiadar or Taidra for you?”
“Oh, no thank you, Priestess.”
“Please, dear. Wynlynn is fine.”
“The Headmistress and Headmaster would like an audience with you when you have the time,” she said, returning the friendly air but not the informality. She couldn’t anticipate how swiftly Eladrin might change and if they could be contradictory, if their memories were different.
“I have so much work,” Wynlynn started.
“There is no rush at all, Priestess. Wynlynn,” she said as if to humor her.
“Did they receive my invitation to this event?”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Awoan took a moment to remember the enchantments placed upon the envelopes and how showy they were when it was opened. “Unfortunately, they’re not much of the celebratory types. They feel much too responsible for the state of the Reaches.”
“As do I! That’s what all of this is about!” This form seemed gracefully cheerful.
“They completely understand. But we all have our own sense of duty.”
“How true. How wise.” Wynlynn paused to ponder the idea. Her lips pursed but then spread into a gentle smile soon enough. “I will see them tomorrow,” she said with determination to keep her own promise. “Now, go find a seat. I need a representative of the Arcana here tonight.”
“I’m flattered, but -”
“No buts!” Wynlynn almost shouted with a giggle. “You shall stay and find comfort in my home,” she said, gesturing all around her.
Awoan thought for a moment but couldn’t help but smile. She thought of all she’d been through recently. She believed both that there was so much work for her to do and so much responsibility being placed on her as well as the fact she definitely deserved to have some time to relax and enjoy herself and her company. What would Headmistress Isshyim do? Fire her?
Awoan giggled, herself, and thanked Wynlynn. She offered to help in the kitchen but was shooed out as soon as she opened her mouth.The night was long, but she was full and content. She was comfortable. And, strangely enough, she was happy. Happy to be alive and happy to have the connections she did.
The scent of nutmeg and pumpkin filled the room before she entered. The sound of drying leaves rustling in the autumn breeze echoed against the stone as she ascended. Her heels clicked softly against the stone. Intentional as to not sound harsh even while walking.
“Greetings, Headmistress, Headmaster. You wished to see me,” she said with a shallow bow and looked upon them with a gentle, matronly smile.