Monday, October 15, 2018

Eternally Bound: Part 8

Eternally Bound: Part 8
----- Proposition -----

Lion's Arch was a big city, but whereas the towering buildings and subdivisions of Divinity's Reach provided structure, this city thrived on chaos.  At its inception, Lion's Arch was founded upon the broken flooded city from an era long ago, and had, until recently become a wasteland of beached pirate ships and broken cargo vessels.  Now, with the city having been devastated by something called the Breachmaker, it was rebuilt and took on an aquatic theme.  Demitra hadn't known the city's history, but during her first visit to Lion's Arch, she had attended a tour as she scouted a way to return to Elona.  This was the fourth time she had visited the city, and while it was full of hosts of unsavory characters, Demitra thought of it with fondness: it was where she and Ember had first met.

Ember had on a dress back then, a feat Demitra realized later, was out of her comfort zone.  But, it was this dress that made the Elonian notice the white-haired beauty.  She had stood alone most of the night, only lightly conversing with various people at the Elona-Bound ball in which Demitra had thrown.  The means of paying for such, notwithstanding, Demitra was elated at the festivities and enjoyed dancing throughout the night.  It was there she gave the speech to inspire freedom fighters to rise up and fight against Elona's oppression.

"Elona's oppression…" Demitra's mind wandered as she strolled through the city.  In the time she had been whisked away to the Realm of the Djinn, Tyria's fight continued and had spilled into Elona.  Not only had a human god been defeated, but the lich Palawa Joko, the undying god-king solely responsible for decimating the people of Elona, had been defeated.  Ember had been in the War in Kryta and had been instrumental in her regiment's efforts, even though it almost cost her life.  In their private bedchambers, Demitra had broken down upon hearing the news and cursed herself for being so self-absorbed - even if her absence was uncontrollably due to her 'Djinniness'.  This, above all Ember's nicknames, made her blush and smile every time she thought of it.  And, almost immediately thinking of Ember, happiness was replaced by a sadness that overwhelmed her.

While the conclusion by the reports had shown her innocence, Demitra truly worried her theory had decimated their relationship.  Ember had been cold and withdrawn - first due to the loss of her drake hatchling, then due to her belief of Demitra's responsibility.  Since that time, and upon their return from the vault, Ember had seemed to start moving on, but still required proof as to who had framed Demitra.  Paige had tasked Ariadne and Six to seek out underground contacts, which she was certain could ascertain what happened.  Having little reason to doubt Paige wouldn't find the responsible parties, Demitra tried to remain optimistic and trust in the woman's resources.  But, she worried the results would come far later than she hoped.

She sighed.  The last time she had walked in sea-themed city, things were different: Ember and she had begun a courtship, unbeknownst to either at the time.  She had been optimistically excited at their voyage back to Elona, but it was accelerated by the exhilaration of the spark she had felt with her feelings for Ember within.

Now, there was a different purpose to her visit, and upon seeing Paige outside the giant library, those same optimistically excited feelings came back to her.  "Ahai, Lady Paige Dejarin.  Sebastian explained to me that this is where you have been doing your research," she said with a warm inviting smile.  "I have been want to ask…"

Paige raised an eyebrow.  "W-what about?"  Her face darkened.  Masking her thoughts and feelings around the woman had proven difficult for Paige.  And, she had a deep suspicion Demitra knew exactly where her mind wandered in her presence.

"Oh, no.  Not that…"  Demitra stopped herself before following her train of thought.  "What I mean to ask is how your research progresses, but I simply did not want to be perceived as too impetuous."

Paige let out a sigh of relief.  "Um…. Okay, first of all, Demitra, don't even think for a minute I'm bothered by you asking.  I understand how important this is."  She gestured toward the large library entranceway.  "This is a library I frequent, and I will say, I have turned up some interesting things!  I can't wait to show you both the findings!"

"Show us both?"  Demitra blinked eyes of blue and green.

A commotion pulled the women from their conversation, Demitra immediately spun around with manifested weapons, protectively standing in front of Paige.

"W-what is it, Demi?"  Paige took the cue, drew her weapons as well.

"Do you not here?  It sounds… Thumping; as if it were a…."  Demitra peered into the distance, saw a dust cloud barreling toward them.  "Stampede!" she yelled as a herd of raptors charged at them.  She spun around, grabbed onto Paige, and leaped from their location.  Paige landed under her, stared up at the woman with a blushing shocked expression.  Demitra winked, then turned to the herd, which had halted its advance.

One of the raptors was immediately recognizable.  "Cinder?" she said to the flame raptor.  The words barely left her lips when she was bodily lifted and thrown onto Cinder's back.  The raptor nearest Paige did the same to her.  With a screech from the flamelander, the herd turned back to where they had come from and began their return.

"Woah!  What's  goin-" Paige held onto the saddle-less beast, while Demitra attempted to halt Cinder with her reigns.

"Woah!  Cinder!  Calm yourself…"

The beast paid no attention, followed unknown orders, leading the herd back to its predestined location.  Upon arrival, Demitra was still trying to stop the raptor.

"Cinder!  What's… What's gotten into y-"  Her attention was suddenly pulled to the woman standing before her upon a grassy knoll.  "Oh… Oh, I see," the Elonian stammered, sliding off the raptor.

Paige dismounted as Demitra absently approached Ember.  The woman wore a delicate dress of yellow and red, contrasting against her darker skin.  Her face had a bit of makeup, along with sparkling earrings dangling in the breeze.  She smiled beautifully at her partner.  "A-ahai, there… E-Ember."  Demitra was dumbfoundedly staring at the woman's curves.  Ember, normally clad in leathers or full suits of armor, had on a tightly woven corset, which brought the woman's cleavage into view of the v-neck.

Her partner's scrutiny made Ember's cheeks redden.  She took in a deep breath.  "I… I wanted to make sure I did this right.  So, I picked the place where we first met."  She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat.

Perhaps for the first time, Demitra's eyes left Ember, observing their surroundings.  She smiled wildly.  "Oh!  Indeed!  This was the venue for the Elona-Bound Ball!"  She looked at Paige, who tilted her head.  "Oh!  Lady Paige Dejarin, this was the site of… See, there was a ball, of which I held to bring fighters to aid the cause in Elona!"

Paige smirked.  "Yes, I got that from the title," she laughed.  "I remember hearing about it, but duties of the estate kept me from attending.  I'm sorry I wasn't there."

"That is quite understandable, Lady Paige Dejarin; this was before I knew of you.  You are here now!  And we shall…" A thought occurred to the woman, and she took Ember's hands into her own, ignoring the hissing of steam.  "Why is it we have gathered here, dear heart?"

Ember cleared her throat, looked to the hulking salamander drake known as Scarra.  The animal had been patiently waiting, came to stand beside her master, and looked up anticipating the final command.  "I… I panicked before, and I was taken off-guard.  I… I'm ready now, if you are."

"Panicked?  The Djinn was daunting, to say the least; but we prevailed and we discov-"

"Demi!  Shush!" Paige called out, surprising herself.  She quickly covered her mouth.

Ember fell to one knee, reached inside the drake's maw, and retrieved a small black box.

Ember flushed, worried her hair would burst into flame. She looked up into the alluring gems Demitra had for eyes. "S-Sorry.  (I'm really bad at this.) What I mean is..." Ember opened the box to reveal a ring of gold with a purple sparkling amethyst stone set as a solitaire gem update it.  "Will you marry me?"

The question sent a bolt of electricity to Demitra. Her heart pounded and she stood in shock a moment.  Paige gasped, covering her mouth it to keep from squealing. Ember vibrated with nerves.

The sparkling amethyst didn't come close to matching the glittery sparkling vividness of Demitra's tears as her heart resumed beating.  She cried out, "Yes; Yes, indeed! A thousand times yes!!!"

Tears steamed as they trailed down Ember's face. She removed the ring from the box, slid it excitedly onto Demitra's finger, happy her gloves were fingerless. Demitra watched with baited breath, then lifted Ember into a loving embrace followed by a passionate kiss. Having held herself back, Paige finally gave in, shrieked and cheered.

"Kormir's veil, how lovely! Oh I'm so happy for you both!" Paige barely got the words out before Demitra was bouncing over waving her ring hand erratically, the other dragging Ember along.

"Lady Paige Dejarin, look! Look! We are to be wed!" the woman was a child on Wintersday morning, receiving a present she'd longed for.

Ember bushed at the commotion, but truthfully she was elated to see her future bride so happy.

"Yes! I know, and let me be the first to congratu-"

Paige was lifted into the air and Demitra embraced her, squeezing the woman and giggling the whole time. Paige's face immediately turned red as she felt both the Elonian's body against hers and the sensational tingle it caused. She accidently yelped.

"We are to be wed!" Demitra repeated as though it were the first time she exclaimed the news.

Paige tried to regain control, "Th-this is your moment, Demi, you should..."

"Yes, and I am beyond ecstatic that you, my dear sweet friend, were here to witness it!" Demitra pressed her full lips to the woman's cheek.

Every part of Paige's body trembled, and she was suddenly out of breath.

"Get in here, love," Demitra giggled, pulling Ember into the happy moment. "Oh! I have not been happier... Not once!  Lady Paige Dejarin, Ember has proposed to me on this day!"

Paige chuckled.  "Yes, I saw!" She gave Ember a knowing wink.  "We were going into the library, so it was fortuitous your raptors came when they did!"

"No doubt from your days of training them; well done Ember.  Oh dear heart, you have given me such a gift! I am so... incredibly... beyond... Hap-" Demitra trailed off.  Her eyes faded and her skin was pale.  She lost her footing and collapsed.

"Oh she's overwhelming and fainted! That's so... beautiful!" Paige squealed.

Ember knelt down to her fiancé to rouse her.  Her skin was cold to the touch.  Ember panicked, began to shake Demitra, who failed about, like a lifeless doll. "She's not fainted!  Wake up Demi!"

Paige drew her scepter, thinking of an incantation that may help revive her.  "Scarra, kick up some sand, I'm going to try something.  Ember, step back a second..."

Ember reluctantly crawled backward, to give her friend room.  Scarra also did as she was told, began to claw into the dirt and use her tail to kick up sand and dust.  Paige took in a deep breath, said a prayer to her gods, then began to channel her magic through the soil drawing upon its stored untapped energies.  A yellow aura formed around the incapacitated woman, surrounding her with barrier infused magic.

"Now Ember!  It's up to you to pull her back.  Scarra, thank you for your assistance." The drake went to stand beside Paige, wagging her tail at a job well done.  Paige wasn't so sure.  Demitra wasn't infallible but Paige had never seen her falter, and the woman's skin was beginning to fade even more, and she feared her efforts were in vain.

Ember held her love. "Demi... No, not like this! Wake up hon! Come on.  Come back to me, like you've done before... Don't leave me again!"

Paige covered her mouth, her eyes began to fill.  "Please Demi! Come back to me!"

A long moment passed where nobody moved or made a sound, other than sniffling from the tears.  Until Demitra began to cough up sand. She slowly blinked back the darkness, opening two eyes of sparkling azure sapphires, no signs of her normal emeralds.

Lady Paige sat her torch down and placed both hands up the woman's shoulders, commanding the magic to dispel.

Ember squeezed her fiancé. "You ever do that to me again, and I'll..." she threatened through tears.

A voice came from Demitra that was not her own.  "Ember, you fool!"

"D-Demi?" Paige sat back confusedly.

"W-what?" Ember pulled back from their embrace, staring with wide-eyes. "VA-Valandra?"

"Emily?  Is that you?" Valandra's voice rang out clearly.

"Val- Are… Are you alive?  What… What happened to Demitra?" she asked, uncertain if she wanted to hear the answer.

Demitra shook her head, grunted as if it were a struggle just to do so.  She sat up, coughed a few more times, then looked around sheepishly at both women.  Her skin began to return to its normal caramel hue.

"You do know I hate being called Emily," Ember said, if nothing but to prompt more speech from the woman.

"Yes, dear heart.  Of this I know." Demitra's voice also sounded normal.  "What... What happ-"

"Your Valandra was showing," Ember dryly interrupted.

"Oh thank Dwayna and Kormir!  I... We both thought we had lost you!  I am so relieved." Paige finally exhaled a breath she held for way too long.

"I'm not," Ember said negatively. "What just happened... What you just said was something Valandra always used to say to me... And your voice was... Listen, I think Valandra was trying to reach out, like you did to her when you were in there." She pointed to the Elonian's bracers.

"But, she wasn't just reaching out, if it was Valandra; it's like she was forcing her way out," Paige tapped her chin a minute.  "Two cannot be One…"

Demitra sighed.  A both frustrated at her predicament and relieved that those that loved her were here to help.  She took Ember's hand and squeezed, causing smoke to billow from it.

Ember glanced at the effect, formed an idea.  "Then what if we remove them forcefully?  Love, are you able to take your gauntlets off?"

"I have not since after my… conversion.  I worry if I remove them, I will cease to exist."

Paige raised an eyebrow.  "It may work, but I'm not sure if it will solve the problem.  In my research, I discovered that Djinn bound to objects or people (or whatever) can be recalled or summoned out of their vessels.  I haven't seen anything completely conclusive saying the object has to remain on their person.  Actually there's some lore suggesting the wielder of the Djinn's vessel retains control over them.  Again, most of the Djinn lore I have access to is sketchy at best."  She tilted her head a moment.  "Maybe the Priory Archives contain more…"

"Yet the Djinn of the vault asserted that only Valandra's vessel (the artifact) can be used to make 'One become Two'.  Would he have left out such vital information?  Simply the act of removing them shall separate us?"  Demitra examined her bracers.  "Yet Djinn do enjoy riddles and half-truths.

Ember nodded.  "Yeah, and maybe he's just wanting the sword back and lying about everything else.  Love, can you try to take them off?"

Demitra sighed, then nodded in agreement.  She placed her hands on one of the gloves and gave the lightest tug.  "No.  They are… They are solidly affixed!" she feigned disappointment.

Ember chuckled.  "Demi, you may be the best dancer I've ever seen, but you are not a good actress!  This may be the key to stopping, or slowing down what's happening to you.  I long to see Valandra again, too, but not at the cost of you wasting away!  Let's try this, then we can go and get Val's sword and bring her back!"  Ember said in earnest.

"I… I trust you; both of you.  I put my life in your hands," she said, holding her arms out, palms upward.

Ember knelt down, wrapped her arms around her lover.  "It's okay.  I got you.  We're here and we're going to fix this.  (Not that I don't think your hair of snow isn't breathtaking.)"

"I fear if we remove these and I am recalled to my vessel… I shan't reach out from the Realm of the Djinn, and shall be imprisoned there again," Demitra's voice cracked a bit.

"Then we'll just have to pull you out.  Remember: I've done it before.  I know the spell now, and with this torch, I think… No.  I know I can!"  Paige's eyes reflected confidence beyond her years and where steadfast.

"Or I can just stab a Dejarin again," Ember shrugged.  The two women's reactions made her immediately regret the joke.  "Too soon?  Sorry.  I'm… I'm just nervous."

Paige tried her best to smile reassuringly at Demitra as she reached up and took hold of the gauntlets.  Demitra and Ember both had the same expression, both with their eyes locked upon the bracers.  Paige gritted her teeth and began to pull.

A hissing sound followed by ice cracking came from the gloves.  Paige quickly looked at Demitra, worry on her face.  "Does it hurt you?"

Demitra shook her head.  "No, I… I actually think it is working."

Ember squeezed Demitra.  "Okay.  Then just keep on going, Paige.  Nice and slow."  She watched as the bracers cracked and hissed and slowly creaked forward.  She leaned into her lover, whispered in her ear.  "I love you, Demitra."

Tears of glitter found their way hesitantly down Demitra's cheeks at the woman's words.  "And I, you, Ember Drakenfist.  I shall never forget you.  Nor shall I forget you, Lady Paige Dejarin, daughter of the Dej-"

"Shush now!  Don't talk like that.  We've got this!"  Paige pulled with a bit more vigor.  The gloves slid further.

"Every day, you're going to wake up next to me; I'm not saying goodbye, dammit!"  Ember also welled up.

Lady Paige took in a deep breath, then jerked at the guantlets.  "Someone should have a marriage that works, dammit!"

A loud crack came from the bracers and the ice seemed to give way, with a pop.  Paige landed on her butt, both gloves in hand.  "Ooof!"

"Love?  Are you alright?" Ember was already inspecting the woman.

Demitra stared at her hands with a look at shock and awe.  "I… I am no longer…"  Suddenly, she reached behind her head, pulled Ember into a deep passionate kiss.

Ember melted into the kiss, pulling back to see one of her lover's eyes returned to its normal emerald.

Paige sat the gauntlets beside her.  "Demi, are you…  You?  Are you alright?"   Demitra quickly crawled over to Paige, embraced her with a large kiss on the cheek.  The women almost stumbled backward.  Paige was three shades of red.  "I… Uh… Demitra, I…"  Paige returned the embrace, losing herself in the moment.

Ember stood, took a few steps to the women, looked down.  "I'm just so happy noth-"  She was unexpectedly pulled down into the hug by Demitra.  The three women held each other, occasionally snickering, occasionally crying.  Ember was the first to pull away, looking at the gloves.

"Hey!  I have an idea, hand me the gauntlets," she said, as if it were a simple trinket.

Paige offered the gloves to Ember, not recognizing any possible negative outcomes to this auspicious moment.

Demitra snatched the gloves away, cradled them.  "I should… I should place these safely in the manor.  They are my vessel, my anchor to this world - as I understand it.  These, I am a slave to, and I must protect them."

Ember raised an eyebrow.  "After all this… you don't trust me?"

"Love that's not it… I simply-"

Paige interrupted.  "Ember, please.  We today's events… Well, we did a lot.  Let's at least take a look into this more before we do anything… rash."

Ember's nose wrinkled.  "It's what I did to find Demitra.  I put the gloves on and they gave me a vision!  If I put them on now, maybe I'll see-"

"But, that was before Valandra was trapped inside.  I was reaching out to you Valandra and, by proxy, you, since you shared her magical essence.  I whispered to you, urged you on, provided you with what I could to persuade my release.  If it is Valandra in here, and not simply her essence, then she has already shown she has not gently urging.  I fear what shall be the outcome if you adorn the bracers, Ember."  Demitra was trying to be as delicate with the subject as possible.  She looked to Paige for backing.

Paige sighed, stood, brushed the dirt off her attire.  "Ember, let us trust Demi on this one as she trusted us.  There's always tomorrow, and we have to study that such an action won't cause irreparable harm to you or Demitra.  Besides, the original objective still remains: If we can find Valandra's artifact, transfer her essence from the guantlets to it… Well, then maybe…"

"And to ascertain its whereabouts, this ritual is to be performed in the Mad King's Realm?"  Demitra asked, happy for the subject change.  More than a few times, she noticed Ember's eyes go to the bracers she held.  "Don't even think about rubbing them," she said, half-jokingly.

Ember giggled as Paige cleared her throat and continued.  "Well, it's just as you say, Demi.  With the Mad King coming to Tyria to spread havoc, we just have to use one of the gateways to traverse into his realm.  Since the realm's in close proximity to the Realm of the Djinn, we perform the ritual and it'll help us locate the asura that took Valandra's vessel.  But… Here's the fun part!"

"Fun… part?"  Demitra tried to figure out the expression, was worried it had gotten lost in translation.

Ember muttered, "She and I have much different definitions of fun."

Paige laughed.  "Yeah, well, I'd say shopping for spooky costumes is going to be a blast!"

Demitra's eyes flashed.  "Shopping?"  She said, excitedly.

"Yes; we'd be harassed if we went into the Mad King's realm right?  But there is a precedent of what's been done before: We have to dress the part to not arise suspicions.  In other words…"

Demitra bounced up and down.  "Shopping!"

Ember puffed.  "Oh great.  Can't I just burn him?"

Paige literally face-palmed.

Demitra snuck a quick smooch on her fiance's cheek.  "Shopping, Ember!  Shopping!" her eyes were sparkling diamonds of blue and green.

Ember's frown subsided seeing her lover's reaction.  She'd forgotten how much Demitra enjoyed touring the shops at the bazaar in Amnoon.  The Elonian was radiant, jumping up and down bursting into joyous infectious laughter.

"Oh, love!  It shall be a wonderful time!  With the shopping… and the clothes!  And the…. Oh wait," Demitra paused, tilted her head to the side.  "How are we to dress, Lady Paige Dejarin?"

Paige fingered her chin a moment.  "Well, I'd say start by finding your favorite seasonal tale, and choose something that appeals.  I have my heart set on-"

"A witch!  I shall be a witch!" Demitra struck a pose.

"Well, that's what I was going to be,"  Paige mumbled, deflated.

Demitra sidled up beside Paige, wiggled her butt, and bumped into her hip.  "We can all be witches, you know?  It's called dress-up for a reason!  And it is a joyous reason!  I feel… free!"  The woman raised her hands above her head, abs flexing here and there, gyrating to and fro in a rhythmic belly dance.

Paige inadvertently covered her agape mouth and her cheeks turned red seeing the woman move in the seductive dance.

"Well, I think I know what Demi will dress as: a Djinn," Ember said jokingly.

"That is hardly a costume for me, love."  She continued her alluring dance, winking at both Paige and Ember.

Paige cleared her throat, bent down to pet Scarra, while continually watching the Elonian dance.  Remembering Demitra's abilities made her attempt to keep her mind in check, yet the woman's hips and bounce pulled her into those passionately lustful thoughts.  The empathic dancer picked up on the projected thoughts of both her friend and her bride to be.  She simply grinned thick ruby lips and reveled in the lustfulness.

After a few minutes, a tinge of lonely sadness passed from Paige.  While Demitra wasn't sure she understood the complexity for the emotion, she knew what she had to do to bring her friend back to her happiness.  She reached out, pulled Paige into the dance.

"Who!  Whoa!  Um… Demmmiiiii?"  Paige tried her best to match the woman's skill, albeit looking positively flummoxed.

"Did you two… practice?" Ember folded her arms.

"I practice every day; this you know Ember.  I have seen you watching me.  Felt your eyes upon my body," Demitra said as she ran her free hands over her skin and down onto her hips.

"Just try moving as she does…" Paige giggled, forgetting her previous self-consciousness.  "Come, join us Ember!"

"I don't dance," Ember scoffed.

Demitra was immediately brought back to the night of the Elona-Bound Ball, and Ember's lack of participation back then… at their very first meeting.  "Oh, you shall dance, indeed… at our wedding, my lovely Ember Drakenfist."

All women giggled and enjoyed each other's company well into the night, knowing peril awaited them in the Mad King's Realm.  The gauntlets, having been the focus of the night, lay quietly in the sand behind them.

Ice continued to crack along them...

[To Be Continued...]


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Eternally Bound: Part 7

Eternally Bound: Part 7
----- Revelation -----

"Okht Thaljia…"

Demitra recognized the Elonian words the Djinn spoke, but froze upon hearing them.

"Wait… Wait… I know this.  I've studied… Okht means, 'Sister' in ancient Elonian.  But Thaljia?"

Ember's eyes narrowed at the Djinn.  "Valandra isn't here," she said gritting her teeth.

Demitra raised an eyebrow to Ember.  "Valandra?  What is your meaning?"

"That was her name (or the name she gave herself anyway): 'Thaljia'.  She changed it from Dejarin when she bound that thing inside her," she said bitterly, eyeing one of the Djinn's many arms and gripping her sword hilt tighter.

"Thaljia… It means 'Ice Storm.'  Why?" She cast a penetrating glance at the Djinn.  "Why do you label me this?  You are mistaken, Djinn of the Vault.  I am Demitra Naja Nyimah; Valandra… Thaljia is no longer."

"Djinn, please answer this.  Was Demitra supposed to have Valandra's magic at all?  Is she impure because she somehow now holds her essence?  If so, does this offend your kind?"  Paige was trying her best to get answers they so desperately sought.  Djinn were misdirectional, to put it mildly, and she tried to leave no wiggle-room in her questioning.

Looking over each woman, the being seemed to expel a bit of his reluctance.  Before his next words, one of his hands arose pointing a gnarled finger to Demitra's gloves.  All the women looked upon them.  "It is the impurity which lies within.  Two cannot be one.  Thaljia was to come; not this impurity."

"Thaljia… Valandra, my estranged sister… she…" Paige's carefulness was inturrupted as Demitra finished her sentence.

"She died," Demitra said sharply.  Hearing the words, however, made her immediately regret how cold they sounded.  An apologetic look was shot at Ember.

The petite woman nervously shifted her weight, tried to deflect the harshness, though her frown told a different story.  An object for her aggressions, she spat at the Djinn.  "It should be noted: I am not a patient woman!  Stop pointing and give us some answers or you'll lose one of those pointing hands!"

"That doesn't help either, Ember.  Djinn, tell us, how does Demitra lose this impurity.  How can we make her pure?  Can you make her pure?"  Paige motioned for Ember to lower her sword, who reluctantly obeyed.  "Free him, please, Demi," she asked cautiously.

A dry laugh came from the Djinn as he stood on unseen feet, released from his anchor.  "I cannot.  She is impure; Thaljia has transferred her binding."

"Wait… Transferred her binding?  You mean she is…."  Demitra stared at the frosted bracers.  "She's… in them?"

Ember's red eyes sparked to life as her head began to spoke.  "She's alive?"

"Ember, we don't know that yet… Demitra, what is so special about the bracers?"  Paige came to stand beside the woman, inspecting the curiosity.

"I… I am bound to these.  They are my vessel.  And now…" She looked up with scrupulous eyes of green and blue.  "You say Valandra is bound to them?"

"And 'Two cannot be one,'" Paige finished the woman's thought.

"Weapons," the Djinn said, as he floated to the entrance of the fourth archway.  He paused, gestured at it.  "Thaljia was to come.  She did not.  You are not her; you are impure."

"I am impure due to Valandra and I both bound to the same vessel?"  Demitra's voice wavered.

Paige placed her hand on the woman's shoulder, ignoring the sensation it caused.  "This is important to the four of us; so let's just trust that we can solve it, together!"

The woman's optimism was infectious and Demitra nodded at her friend.  In the time they had been in each other's lives, the Elonian had come to rely on the woman's judgement, and trust in it.  She had no doubt Paige would not rest until the problem had been worked out.

The women ventured closer to the arch, and stepped into the room beyond.

"Oh how exciting!"  Paige said, bursting with enthusiasm and eagerness.  She had to take a deep breath to calm herself and forego a yelp.

"Exciting if we can fix her," Ember said coldly eyeing the Djinn as they passed.

Demitra stepped into the room behind them.  It was larger than perceived, given the proximity of the adjacent room, but was almost identical to it in every way.  A large opened chest was in the center of the room on a pedestal, a constant gentile snowfall upon it.   Several tapestries decorated the walls, most depicting a white haired girl instantly recognizable as Valandra.

The women spread out looking at the various depictions.  One showed a young girl holding the hand of Palawa Joko, walking back to the bone palace in a field of ice.  Another displayed an older Valandra, fighting and defeating a Djinn, with his essence being pulled into her.

Demitra stood, mouth agape at a final tapestry.  It depicted two women locked in combat, one impaling the other.  Unlike the tapestry from her own vault, this one had clear depictions of their faces.  It was Valandra and Ember; Ember holding the sword that was stabbed into Valandra.  Demitra inadvertently gasped at the site.

Ember downed her head, somberly not wanting to look at the tapestries, ashamed at the final picture.

"This… This vault was meant for Valandra.  This is what you meant when you said you were awaiting her."  Paige concluded.

"Okht Taljia never came," the Djinn repeated.

"Yeah… My fault," Ember sniffled, fighting back tears.  "Sorry about that."

Demitra turned to comfort her love but stopped short, staring at the tapestry which hung behind Ember.  It was a scene of Valandra and Ember in a tent, engaged in a lover's dance.  Demitra covered her mouth, in shock.  "Ember?  You… You and Valandra?"  The words were barely audible.

Ember stared at the floor, embarrassed and uncomfortable.  "It's… Um… how we were able to find you."

"Djinn:  A question for you?" Paige stood in front of the large floating being, looking up.  He stood with his arms akimbo, one outstretched as it observed the damage he had sustained.  At Paige's approach, he peered down at the tiny woman.  "These pictures… It tells the story of these women on the walls.  My question is this:  If the Djinn foresaw Valandra's death, why can Demitra not carry her legacy with her?"

"Djinn do not predict future events.  There has been only one that could.  We are ageless, not all knowing."  The Djinn seemed to confess this reluctantly.

Demitra spun around.  "Is he - the one that could see the future - Is he the one responsible for these tapestries, then?"

Then the Djinn wrapped a manifested bandage around his lipless mouth.  "He was correct; we were wrong.  All of us."

Paige's curiosity was piqued.  "What can you tell us about him?  Can we speak with him?"

"You cannot.  He left the vault long ago.  He was once here, beside me, but is no longer.  He was right; we were not."

Demitra's eyebrow perked up.  "You mean my room?  This Djinn that could predict the future was in my vault?"

The Djinn almost winked at the woman.  "You knew of him."

"Knew of him… I never met…" Suddenly Demitra's eyes grew wide.  "My mentor," she said with a frosty breath.  "He is the one which gave me these.  These bracers… They came from my vault, Djinn?"

"They did.  But they were not to be your vessel.  They were handed down; as were the others."  The Djinn said, as if it explained everything.

"There's… footprints here," Ember called out.  She had made her way to the snow, began to inspect the area around the pedestal.  "Someone else has been here."  She found an unscoffed print and growled.  "Asura."

"The small scavenger," the Djinn answered an unasked question.

"Oh no.  No, no, no, no, no!  It… It can't be her," Ember frantically compared her sword to the size of the chest.  It matched perfectly.  "Oh no.  It… It couldn't be."

"What is it, Ember?"

"The Asura that took me.  She got my sword and made a replica of it.  And, this chest is the size of that, and these footprints…  It's her, isn't it?"  Ember was doing her best to build the picture.  "That little skritt somehow found her way here and got Valandra's real sword!"

"The artifact can still be retrieved," the Djinn nonchalantly added.

"What do you mean, Djinn?  Why would we retrieve this 'artifact'?  What use is it to us now that Valandra is gone?"  Paige earnestly asked.

"Two cannot be One," the Djinn responded.

"Two cannot… Wait.  Are you saying I can become… 'pure' if we retrieve this artifact?  I can transfer this to it and become pure?"  Demitra held her icy bracers up.

"Two cannot be One; Artifact obtained, One can be Two."

Ember was already bound for the door, cursing and waving her arms about.  "That damned little rat must have gotten a taste of the sword's power and found out it was here, then she stole Valandra's sword and claimed it as her own!  I… will… kill that…"  Her hair burst in flame.

"Weapons, all.  To fight the immortal."

Paige tilted her head, picked at her hair a moment lost in thought.  "So… There's something to fight and our weapons are the key somehow?  This is quite the opaque puzzle!  I…"  Paige forgot herself only for a moment, then cleared her throat, in an attempt to brush away her youthful excitement.  "Ahem… What I mean is we can figure that out once we get Valandra's artifact.  But, how would we even find it?"

Ember vocalized her thoughts.  "I mean, I can show you where her old lab was… but, uhhh…. I kinda blew it up.  I might be able to track down her… associate.  But sneaking up on a blind person, in this case, is really not easy."

The Djinn smirked beneath his restored wraps.  "All together can reveal; only from within the realm of the Djinn, to seek the small scavenger.  Humans not permitted."

Demitra's brow furrowed.  "Realm of the Djinn.  You mean to say we are to go where I was imprisoned?"

"How will we even get there if humans cannot enter?" Paige's hips wiggled as she shifted her weight, thinking.  "Oh!  Demitra is one of your kind!  She could bring the weapons to the Realm of the Djinn for us!" Without prompt, Paige was already enacting her plan.  She brought her torch up to Demitra's surprised face who looked at it cross-eyed.  "Here!  Take it!"

Demitra took a step back, then accepted the torch.  As soon as Paige's hands left the handle, it immediately flickered and snuffed itself out.  Ember tried next, taking the torch from Demitra.  The flame remained extinguished.  Ember returned the torch to Paige, which immediately caught on fire again.

"Well, that theory has been disproven," Paige frowned a bit.

All women turned to the Djinn, who seemed to grin wildly beneath the bandages.  "Reality walls break upon the heaven's blood moon," he hissed.

"Great, so we just kill another god for heaven's blood?"  Ember followed along as best she could.

"No; no.  I don't think so.  Heaven's blood moon?  That's… that's coming up soon, if I have my moon phases correct.  (I'd really need to double-check with the charts in my office), but yeah, I think that's going to be… soon!"

"Reality walls breach…"  Demitra pondered.  "When do reality walls breach?"

Paige was absolutely ecstatic, hopped up and down.  "I think I got it!  See, humans cannot enter the Realm of the Djinn because humans are of this realm.  But, Djinn magic always has a few work arounds and tricks!"

Ember scratched her head.  "Are you saying we become Djinn like Demitra?"  The words were arrows that struck the woman, even though Ember hadn't meant them in such a way.

"Ember, I… I did not choose this… I…"

"No!  Even better!"  Paige was pacing.  "We cannot enter the realm from here, right?  But what if… What if we entered from an adjacent realm?  What happens in a fortnight?  The blood moon!  And what happens when Tyria gets its first blood moon?"

Ember brushed some ash from her hair and shrugged.  Demitra also looked just as perplexed, not knowing the region's customs.

Paige held her breath longer than she thought possible, but when neither woman provided a response, she exploded.  "The Shadow of the Mad King!  It's perfect!  That's what we do!"

"Mad King's realm?  What do you speak of?"  Demitra was confused.

"Oh, it's… It's really a long story, but suffice-it-to-say, there's a time when the first blood moon appears and the walls between realms are thinnest.  The spirit of Mad King Thorn appears and… It's when the boundaries between realities can be traversed!  We can go there; if legend has it correct, it's adjacent to the Realm of the Djinn!"  Paige's eyes lit up as she spoke.

Ember groaned.  "Oh, I so have a bad feeling about this."

"You… You say such things often," Demitra stated.

"Well, you're naked often, but I don't point it out!" Ember said with a smirk.

Paige blushed, tried to look away from the couple, found her eyes accidently settling onto the tapestry behind them of Ember and Valandra as lovers.  Her cheeks became even darker, and her heartbeat increased.  "Uh… Yeah.  Okay, so, do you think we can leave this place now?"  This was contrary to what she wanted; she would have contently stayed in the vault to examine every detail, but it was the first thing that came to her.

Demitra stepped up to look straight up at the Djinn, her eyes steadfast.  "Wait.  First I must know… No riddles.  Djinn, tell me, when 'One becomes Two,' with Okht Thaljia return?"

The Djinn grinned a lipless wild grin.  "Two becomes One.  One becomes Two.  Two becomes One."  The chant echoed within the room, the vault and the hallway leading to it.  He held all four arms aloft, then brought them lunging forward.  The floor shattered like ice, all four women fell into the pit where it once was.  They barely had time to yell or scream before each landed with a thud back at the Dejarin ruins.

Ari rushed to Ember's side, assisted her in sitting up.  "Captain, are you alright?"

Demitra sat in the sand, staring distantly.  "What… What did he mean?"

Paige crawled a few steps over and sat by her friend.  "I believe 'Two becomes One' refers to your current state.  'One becomes Two,' well, I think that's us finding Valandra's artifact and separating you two.  The 'Two becomes One'?  I'm… Well, I hope my theory's wrong about that one."  She glanced to Ember, who was staring at the floor, deep in thought.

"Or, perhaps, it is simple riddles as Djinn love to tell?"  Demitra absently ran a cold finger through the sand.

"I don't know, I actually found it fascinating!  Riddles are fun!"  Paige smiled like a cat.

"Unless they are about your very being," Demitra said seriously.  But a look at Paige's expression made her slightly chuckle.  "Well, if I ever sound so… riddled, please tell me of such."

Paige winked, "Oh, believe me, I would solve you!"  She suddenly became very aware of her words and flushed.

Demitra gave her a reassuring, knowingly warm smile.

Clearing her throat, Paige stood and excused herself.  "I am going to write a letter and I'll wait for you back at the teleportation crystal."  She affixed her backpack, leaped off the cliff, pulling a drawstring which deployed a glider.

Demitra watched the woman glide away, heard Ember excuse Ari, then heard her love shuffling behind her.  She looked up at Ember.  "I… have… no… words…" she said, looking completely lost.

Ember sat down, leaned against Demitra, and rested her head on the woman's shoulder.  "I… I didn't want you to see… well, any of that.  What happened to her, what she and I… did.  I uh… I'm so sorry, Demi."

"Did you call me Demi, Emily?"  Demitra smiled her thick ruby lips at the woman coyly.

"I… I love you," Ember said softly.

Demitra put her arm around her and squeezed.  "And, I have always loved you, Ember Drakenfist."

[To Be Continued...]


Monday, October 8, 2018

Eternally Bound: Part 6

Eternally Bound: Part 6
----- Revisitation -----

"I don't like it," Ember grumbled.  The women had arrived to the previous location of the vault, after having used the teleportation crystal to the Dejarin lands in Elona.  It was an arduous trek afterwards to arrive at their final destination, and Ember was already convinced they had traveled the entire way for no reason.  While she didn't doubt Paige's sincerity and research on the topic, she questioned if returning to a place that almost cost each member of their party their very lives, was the correct course of action.

Paige breathed heavily, setting her satchel down.  It was full of books and scrolls which may be needed, if the situation turned sour.  The woman was nothing, if not prepared.

Demitra had been quite the entire way, only thanking Paige, Ember and Ari, for their dedication and assistance.  While the woman longed to discuss her future with Ember, she also knew Ember's mind, as stubborn as it was, had arrived at the conclusion, and was steadfast on keeping that decision, until proof presented itself.  Demitra could almost curse herself for planting the thought in her lover's head, but knew she had done the right thing by confessing.

"Here is where the vault was, when we last saw it.  I know," she said, seeing Ember's frowning face, "It's gone now, but I believe that we can channel its location, or the very entrance itself, by using the torch and…"  She looked to Demitra.

"And through me," Demitra said hesitantly.  The thought of her exploding and taking each woman with her wouldn't find its way out of the Demitra's head.  Uncharted territory, she knew her own magic was powerful; the Djinn magic which coursed through her, however, was on a level she still couldn't quite comprehend.  It was this power that caused the fear she'd sensed in Ember, and perhaps the very same that caused her lover to withdraw.  And, Demitra hated admitting to herself, perhaps it was warranted.

Ari and Paige seemed convinced the evidence of the infantile drake's death was from something other than her magic.  Demitra wanted to believe this, but, given just how little she knew about her powers, she simply couldn't be sure.  The Djinn of the floating sanctuary had turned the woman away, leaving her to search for answers on her own, and she discreetly worried the Djinn of the vault would still not provide answers.

"Demitra?"  Paige had a sympathetic face at the woman's contemplation.  In their time together, she had never seen the woman lost to her thoughts - she always seemed to be operating on many different levels.  Perhaps her mind worked differently than normal human beings?  It was one of many questions Paige desired to understand, but moreover, Demitra was her friend (Djinn or not), and the dark-skinned woman with poofy hair vowed to help her.  She cleared her throat, trying again.  "Demitra, are you ready?"

"Let's just get it over with," Ember blurted.

Ari also shifted awkwardly.  "You sure the torch is the key, Lady Paige?"

"It is my hope since it has ties to the place, and Demitra's, 'Djinniness,'" Paige used Ember's nickname to try to lighten the mood.  "Well, I think it has merit.  But, I'm going to need total concentration.  Demi, do what you must." Paige said to the worried woman with a reassuring smile.

Paige began a rhythmic dance, moving her body in ways she had never before.  A small circle around her began to appear as the sand shifted to a darkened color, intermixed with green magical energies she expelled.  When spiraling to the center, Paige pulled out the torch, which magically lit with a vibrant flame.  She looked to Demitra with a nod.  Demitra stepped forward, held her hands to the woman, intent on directing her magical essence into the artifact she held.

At once, sand exploded from Demitra's gauntlets, began to interact with the torch-fire.  A ring of fire and sand formed and swirled around Paige.  Demitra tried to pull herself back, but couldn't.  "I… I can't control…"

Ember pulled her sword of fire, ready to pounce on any adversary, when the flames shaping the sword began to reach toward the torch, just as Demitra's bracers had done.  All three artifacts glowed a vibrant golden, pulsating with energies.

"Hey!  My sword!" Ember tried pulling it back, almost losing her grip.  She glanced to Demitra, whose arms were outstretched, a look of perplexity on her face as the bracers poured forth shards of glass, sand and smoke.  All elements were focused into the torch which suddenly erupted, energies knocking all the women from their feet.  In place of the torch was an orb of swirling sands, crystal shards, and fire.  It dove down toward Paige, who narrowly rolled out of the way, impacted the area where she once stood, and sent up columns and waves of loose sand and dust.

A moment later, Ari was the first back to her feet.  "Look!" she exclaimed pointing where Paige had been.

As the dust settle around the site, Paige saw a towering doorway looming over her.  It had no joining wall, simply an arch with an old wooden door attached.  One could stand on the other side of the arch and see the same, both leading magically into what lurked within.

"The vault!" Paige gasped.  "I… I hadn't thought it was going to just… materialize like that… (I mean, sure I had my assumptions, but…)"  The magical fires of her torch were extinguished, as it lay on the ground at the doorstep.  She grasped the handle and it sparked back to life.  "To quote a book I know, 'Curiouser and curiouser…'"

Ember stood, retrieved her sword which also ignited at her touch.  "Well, I'll be damned.  Never thought I'd see this place again, eh Demitra?"  She glanced at her side where Demitra lay immobile, hair of white.  "Demitra!"  Ember ran to her companion's side, lifting her up.  "Are you alright?"

Demitra blinked differential blue and green eyes, either stunned from Ember's reaction or from the blast.  "I… I am, now, dear heart,"  she said with a weak smile.  "W-What event has transpired?"  With Ember's assistance she sat up, reveling in the sight.  "It is… our vault, Ember!"

"And mine," Paige said before she realized she had.  Her cheeks darkened.  "A-all of ours, I mean to say."

Demitra raised an eyebrow, a thought occurring.  "All of ours, indeed.  Paige, your torch and Ember's sword… and my vessel as well.  It seemed they all were the key."

"Vessel?  You mean your bracers?" Paige was already scrutinizing the archway.  It held runes which she couldn't decipher, writing that had bugged her since the first appearance of the vault's entrance.

"Aye," Demitra stood, held up her gloves.  "These were gifted to me by my mentor, long ago.  They… They were not from the vault.  My mentor was a Djinn, to be certain, but he was the one who bestowed upon me these gauntlets which trapped me within, once my transformation began.  I am inexplicably bound to them; this I have come to understand, yet… They were not from the Vault."

Ember tilted her head.  "I mean, they were once in the vault when we went inside."

"True, love, but what I mean is that… Paige, your torch: it was in the room designated for you, correct?  And Ember: yours was also in the room awaiting you.  My chamber had a chest of sand.  I do not understand it yet, but it had something to do with my…"

"Djinniness?" Ember grinned.

Paige rolled her eyes.  "Ember, please.  So why are my torch and Ember's sword so special?  And all you got was sand, yet your bracers were somehow tapped when I performed the ritual to call forth this door?"  The woman was already starting to pace.  "And, there was a fourth door in the vault, too."

"The fourth door is our objective.  I wish to consult with the Djinn inside, since those of the sanctuary refuse me.  'Not pure'," she said wrinkling her nose at the slight.

"What does that even mean?  That you were once a human, and so now you're not pure?" Ember tried to align the pieces.

"I know not… I…."

Ari yelled, "The doorway!  We gotta hurry!"  The arch had begun to fluctuated, threatening to dissipate.

Demitra stood ran and leaped into the doorway so quickly, the other women had little time to debate.  They followed her.  Ari fell on her haunches as the doorway repelled her.  Demitra, Ember and Paige stood within, looking outward.

"Ariadne?  Are you alright?"  Paige called out.

The woman sat up, shaking her head from the dizziness.  "I am, Lady Paige, but I don't think I can come with you."

"Understood, Ari.  Stay to guard the entranceway, if you would.  See that nobod-" Paige's words faded from Ari's ears as the entranceway vanished.

"Well, that's that.  We stuck in here now?  Always knew I'd go out unceremoniously," Ember shrugged.  She held up her sword for the light, looking around.

The room was in the same condition as when any of the women last saw it.  Cobwebs decorated the walls and a few empty crates and large chests stood in the corner.  The structural integrity of the room had given way long ago, creating a gigantic crack in both the foundation and the connecting wall.  The roof was only slightly missing, which allowed falling snow into the room, a curiosity Paige had wondered about upon her first visit.  She held up her own torch, combined it with Ember's light.  The foreboding hallway lie ahead, which led directly to the vault with four doors.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Ember groaned.

"The only way now is to continue moving forward," Paige said, comforted in the logic, though she was uneasy, herself.

"It is as it should be, Lady Paige Dejarin," Demitra glided forward, between the women.  "We summoned this place, together.  You, Paige, performed the ritual, but could not do so without Ember's sword and (apparently) my bracers.  I believe we were always meant to come here, together."

They quietly made their way through the corridor, lighting unused torches along the wall as they passed.  A few times, they paused to melt the thick cobwebs, and a few times, they carefully traversed collapsed ceiling.  The air was stale and humid, the smell akin to an old book.  Paige actually relished in this, but kept it to herself, lest the atmosphere and darkness be disturbed.

The women suddenly halted their advance, hearing noises up ahead.  Ember readied herself.  "I told ya I had a bad feeling about this…"

Paige raised an eyebrow at the woman.  "That's… That's what Arya said when we were last here."

Another sound came from the vault ahead.

"Did you hear that?" Demitra asked, hoping it wasn't another voice in her head like the previous time.

"I did; what do you think it is?" Paige asked.

Ember frowned.  "Something bad."

Paige placed her hand on Demitra's shoulders, forgetting about the tingling sensation it caused.  Her face flushed as her body slightly vibrated.  She removed her hand with a quick gasp.  "Uh…"

"Yes Lady Paige Dejarin?"  Demitra cast a knowing smile at the woman's excitement.

"Yeah… Um… Okay, hold up.  You have Valandra's magic in you right now right?"

"I… I am showing similar signs of the magic she possesses."

Ember looked at Demitra's hair of white and one blue eye.  "I would say it's a little more than that."

Paige tapped her chin.  "Okay, think about it.  What if, in the absence of Valandra, her essence bound to one strong enough to wield it?"

Demitra sighed a frosty breath.  "It was chosen poorly, then, for I cannot contain this."

"You're doing fine.  You haven't kidnapped me yet," Ember laughed at her own joke.

"What if we're here to help you learn to control it or something?  Or what if those powers can help us open the fourth door?"  Paige was absolutely delighted at the myriad possibilities in the mystery.

"I… I am uncertain Lady Pai-"

Paige interrupted Demitra.  "Now don't you start discounting possibilities because they are unlikely.  You must keep an open mind!"

Demitra giggled, despite the current setting.  Paige was insatiably curious, always trying to solve the puzzle.  "Now who is teaching whom?  Very well, La- Paige.  I shall not dismiss such possibilities."  She winked at Paige, either purposefully or inadvertently, causing the woman to blush.

Another noise - this time unmistakably a moan came from ahead.

"Okay, I definitely have a really bad feeling about this," Ember muttered as the three women ventured forward.

The vault was a large octagonal room, each faucet of the wall opposite the hallway contained an arch where a door once stood, leading to rooms beyond.  Everything was dimly lit, the only illumination from the hallway and their respective weapons.  And, while they couldn't see it, each woman stared into the darkness where their fateful door had been.  At once their eyes drifted in unison to where the last door would be.

Ember and Paige both lit torches at the mouth of the room, further adding to the brightness.  The fourth doorway was clearly visible now, as was a thin figure floating beneath the arch - the source of the moaning.

"I swear to the gods… if that's an Awakened…"

"No Ember.  I don't think so.  How many arms does that creature have… I think it's the Djinn!  But, why is the door opened…"  Paige's curiosity muted the danger.  She held out her torch, began her approach.

The Djinn's cold glowing blue eyes looked up at the group.

"Wait, Lady Paige Dejarin," Demitra halted her friend, stepped toward the Djinn.  She had learned a bit of diplomacy from the noble, and decided on just such an approach.  "Ahai!  I am called Demitra Naja Nyimah; we wish to inquire…"

The Djinn's raspy voice pierced their ears, "IMPURE!" it yelled.  At once, it flew forward, knocking Demitra to the ground, barreling toward the other two.

"Fuc- Ember now!" Paige called out.

Ember launched a powerful fireball directly at the Djinn, who seemed to extinguish it upon impact in a billowing steam.  Its four arms outstretched, each drawing from the water particles in the air, forming glowing blue orbs around each hand.

Paige jumped in front of Ember, calling forth a protective sand wall, to block whatever attack the Djinn was about to unleashed.  A few shards of ice penetrated the sand-wall, one grazing Paige's forearm.  She cradled the wound, began to work her magic on it to coagulate the blood.  Doing so dropped half the sand-wall.  The Djinn floated closer, passing into the sands.

Demitra looked at her hands a moment, then angrily at the Djinn.  "I am NOT impure!"  Her body was suddenly lifted upon its own volition, her additional arms reappearing along with the nebulae which was her skin.  She held out all four arms, beginning to channel her power at the Djinn.  She would compress the sands around the being, solidify it to hold him.  All hands were brought together to point at her target.  What came, however, was a flurry of snow and thousands of small ice shards.  Had the sand-wall not been partially erected, the results of the mishap would have been disastrous.

The Djinn cast angry glowing eyes to Demitra, flew to her and wrapped his long fingers around the woman's neck.  She was immediately transformed back to her previous self, began gasping for air.  "You… are an impostor!  Impure!"

Paige bent the stands around the Djinn, told Ember to super-heat the sand, in an attempt to encase the being in a glass coffin.  "You're wrong!  She is not an impostor!  She is Demitra Naja Nyimiah, and she is one of you!  And… She is mine; not yours!  You won't take her from me… us!"

No time to think, Ember did as commanded, channeling her magic into the flame sword, held it reverse, and launched forward, to impale the creature and super-heat the sands, all at once.  "Let go of my Demitra!" she screamed, her head catching fire as she soared.

A guttural ghastly wail came scream came from the Djinn as Ember's fire sword plunged into his topmost shoulder.  He immediately dropped Demitra, who landed bodily on the hard dusty stone floor.  The Djinn flailed about, as Ember hung on.  Finally grasping onto her, he flung her like a rag-doll across the room and into a stone wall.  "You are all unworthy of the gifts!  We were fools!  He was right!"  The Djinn's voice boomed.  He pulled the sword from his side, tossing it to the floor.  The wound the sword caused was more than superficial.  The Djinn held his shoulder, with a somewhat surprised expression at the damage the weapon had caused.

Demitra stood, clutching her throat, surveyed the scene.  The Djinn was weakened.  Ember was passed out on the floor, Paige was attempting blood magic to ensure the woman's stability, and Ember's sword lay extinguished on the floor.  Then Demitra's eyes lit up at an epiphany.  "Paige.  The torch!  Use your torch on him!"

Without hesitation, Paige charged at the Djinn.  She held her torch in front of her face and screamed into it, raising a torrent of sand that burst and forced the flames onto the enemy.  The Djinn was immediately lit with magical flames, crying out in agony as its wraps and bandages burned away, leaving a skeletal decrepit head, devoid of lips or eyes.

Demitra looked at her bracers, considering.  "I suppose…"  She took a step forward, pulled up her sleeves, then clanked the bracers together, hard.  A torrent of sand and snow suddenly manifested, the wave crashing onto the Djinn, pinning him down, as if the wave was a giant bolder upon his chest.  He writhed in pain, squirming beneath the pressure.

She walked to the Djinn, peered down at him as he coughed up sand, looking at the burnt flesh of his arms.  "We know how to defeat you.  Give us answers so that you may live the rest of your immortal life knowing of this defeat!"  She held up a fist, began to channel magical energies to it.

Paige approached, after helping Ember to her feet.  "That's… Demitra, I know you're angry, but we need information."  She had never seen Demitra as livid as she appeared.  The carefully strolled up to the woman, placed her hand upon her bare shoulder and squeezed.

"Tell him to talk fast or I kill him anyway," Ember grumbled.

"Ember, you're not helping the situation."  Paige knelt down, held out a palm to the Djinn.  Hollowed suspicious eyes gazed back at her.  "Please.  We came seeking answers, not blood.  The Djinn gave us all gifts from this very vault.  And Demitra's condition is a constant question.  For knowledge's sake, if nothing else.  Teach us," she tried to appeal to his good nature, his vanity, or his perceived superiority; Paige didn't care which landed - they needed answers!

The Djinn reluctantly accepted her hand, was helped to sit up, still holding his shoulder.  "Demitra?"

"Yes?" Demitra let the magic she was channeling dissipate.

The Djinn turned his hollowed eyes to stare up at Demitra.  "No… Not 'Demitra'… You are Okht Thaljia."

[To be Continued...]


Eternally Bound: Part 5

Eternally Bound: Part 5
----- Inculpation -----

The calm was invigorating and Demitra could see why Paige enjoyed her mornings.  The morning breeze found its way from the waters below, creating a slight chill before the morning sun would decide to make its presence known.  While quite large, the Dejarin estate seemed a bit too crowded for Demitra's comforts.  This was exacerbated by the activities as the servants, cleaning of maids, drake handlers tending to the animals, and others in the grape fields, all busily performing their morning duties, long before most awoke.  Thus, Demitra found herself seeking solitude, and had found a vantage point at the topmost of the estate, where others could not reach her.

"You always did like high places," Ember's past statement echoed in the woman's head.  Indeed, Demitra did seem to have an affinity for more lofty vistas.  It was here she could relax, not worry of others bumping into her electrifying skin, not worry of her powers flaring up uncontrollably, putting others in danger; here she could be herself.

She sat cross-legged upon the very edge of the roof, closed her eyes and began to levitate.  Two additional arms smoked into existence, her wardrobe vanished, and the woman's  entire body changed to that of a purple and azure sparkling nebulae, surrounded by electrical pulses of fuchsia.  "Djinniness," Ember had called it.  Demitra smiled at her lover's astuteness.  She couldn't imagine going through this change without her.

And at once, her thoughts returned to her love's eternal sadness at the loss of the hatchling… One which may have died by the Djinn's very own ineptitude.  It had been a week since the death of the hatchling; a week of difficult mourning and a funeral to provide closure.  None, however, had seemed to come to Ember.  She had remained mostly in the drake nests along the beachfront, emerging only to train her troops.  The few times in which she had sought out Demitra was only to make love, an act which seemed to allow the woman to feel something other than sadness.  But it was fleeting.  She would return to the beachfront, again slipping back into the melancholy place she remained.  Demitra longed to comfort Ember with more than just pleasures of the flesh… but, she found herself feeling isolated, pushed away by the woman, and try as she might to tell Ember her theory about what happened to the drake, the words escaped Demitra.  To fill in, Paige's own words echoed in her mind about procrastination, and while she knew what she needed to do, Demitra feared it would make Ember withdraw more from her and quite possibly be the end of their relationship.

She tilted her head back, releasing a breath of frost.  The air around her crackled with violet electricity, and a light snowfall encircled the floating Djinn.  She wrapped all four arms around herself, brought her head to her knees and began to cry softly.

"Demitra?  Are you alright?  What are you doing up there?"  Paige's concerned voice called out.  She stood upon the overlook, as she did every morning, and while Demitra had occupied the space above her each day, this was the first time she'd noticed the woman.

Demitra looked up, wiped away glittery tears.  "Ahai, Paige," Demitra's tone was soft and delicate.  She stood, stepped off the balcony.  Electrical arcs sprouted from the woman's back, forming a wing-shaped pattern of fluid motion as the lightning danced around her.  She descended slowly and gracefully, landing a few feet from Paige with a bit of a weary smile.  "Perhaps you shall not be gliding champion this year, Lady Paige Dejarin," she joked.

Paige giggled.  "I would hardly call that fair, Demitra of the Djinn."

"I am glad to see you, Paige," Demitra's additional arms had evaporated upon landing, her clothes faded into being, and her skin resumed is previous caramel color with eyes of emeralds and lips of ruby beaming a smirk at Paige.  Her hair was no longer white, which had begun to fade since the previous incident.  It shone now as a brilliant brunette.

Paige's own skin changed color now, flush with red cheeks at the sight of the woman.  In every way, Demitra was wondrously breathtaking.  "I… I am very glad to see you as well," she said, her voice slightly higher than usual.

Demitra felt a flood of lustfully powered feelings crash onto her like a wave.  She suddenly took in a deep breath, bit her bottom lip and tried not to moan from the intensity.

"Are you… Are you alright, Demitra?"  Paige reached to comfort her friend, concern replacing and pushing away her previous thoughts.

After a moment, the feelings dulled themselves and with Paige helping, Demitra was able to stand upright.  She stared and blinked at the woman.  "Paige… Did you… Do you have… Have you been thinking…"

Paige took a step back, covered her mouth.  She had forgotten about Demitra's empathic abilities, and she was completely embarrassed.

Reading the woman's reaction Demitra relaxed her face and smiled knowingly at her.  "What I meant was if you have been thinking about… the research?"

"I… Y-yes, I have, actually," Paige stammered, happy for the subject change.  "There's a lot to sift through, but yes, I do have a few thoughts and theories; primarily on the nature of the vault and the magic we each witnessed from it.  I believe…"

Paige paused as Ember meandered onto the balcony.  Her hair had a few twigs in it, her clothes were dirty and suit-covered, and her smell was of the drakes she had been sleeping with.  She pulled up a chair and plopped down onto it, bodily slouching and hanging off it.

"Love!  You came up!  How… How are you?"  Demitra took Ember's hand into her own, and squeezed.  A small amount of steam came from the interaction and the Elonian slightly giggled, elated Ember had reappeared.

"Yes, Ember, are you… well?" Paige was careful; the woman had obviously been trying to cope and had been neglecting herself in the process.

Ember simply shrugged.  "I'll… I'll be okay."

Never letting go of her hand, Demitra pulled a chair up next to Ember, moved her sparkling eyes to Paige.  "You were saying, Lady Paige Dejarin?  I am… eager, but do not want to be an annoyance by asking such."

Paige stared at Demitra's vivid eyes of emerald a moment longer than she meant to, then shook herself from them, clearing her throat.  "I… Have been researching, and I've had… Well, some interesting facts have turned up.  (But, oh Kormir's veil where do I even begin?)" She tapped her chin a moment, glanced at the sunrise.  "I sent an excavation team back to the ruins after my encounter there, and discovered the entrance, the ruins, the doors… none of it was there afterwards.  But, that's where I got this," she tapped the torch base affixed to her belt.  "That's when I thought, maybe if this torch came from there, it can be used to find the place it came from."

Demitra released Ember's hand to stop the sizzling sounds it was making and adjusted her sleeves so the extent of the frost, which had traveled past her elbows, was hidden.  "It is a sound theory, Lady Paige Dejarin.  What ritual or spell would be performed on it?"

"I think it's a similar ritual to what I did when I summoned you, Demitra.  I believe I did so because of this torch; I believe it to be tied to the Djinn in some way!" Paige was bursting with excitement at hearing her findings said aloud.  "So, if my theory holds, then I may be able to do the ritual, but with your presence, it should be amplified - like a supercharged locator spell, and since the torch is drawn to the Djinn, or from the Djinn (or whatever), I think it'll show us where the vault is… or materialize it!"

Demitra lightly laughed at the woman's excitement; Paige glowed when she was working a problem, and her poofy hair literally bounced as she bobbed her head back and forth with the explanation.  Her wide-eyed optimism was refreshing and Demitra was drawn in, delighted at her flamboyant presentation.  "Marvelous, Lady Paige Dejarin; it is not unreasonable, and I believe it may actually give the results we desire!"

Ember shrugged.

Paige came to Ember, knelt in front of her chair, to look straight at her friend.  "Ember… I know that things are bad, but… finding this vault and understanding how everything's tied to it… I think that's important.  Something's happening to Demitra, and she's… well she's my friend, and we've just got to help her.  And I need you here, with us Ember; just as much as Demitra needs you!"  The woman tried to assert herself without coming off as overbearing or unsympathetic.

"My baby needed me too," Ember mumbled.

She placed her hand over Ember's.  "I know… and I'm very, very sorry.  Snapper needed me as well, and I failed him.  You have been there for Scarra; let us be there for you.  And we, both Demitra and I, need you on this trip, with us."

"What can I even do?"  Ember said in monotone.

"You'll do what you always do, and what we both love you for."  Paige brought Ember's hand to Demitra's, making them clasp together.  She stood, took a deep breath, trying to be matter-of-factly about the state of affairs.  "I've discovered nothing conclusive yet about… the incident.  But, I've asked father's old contacts in the Lion Guard to have mages compare the samples we found… in the…"

"Body?" Ember said coldly.

Paige wrung her hands.  "Uh… Yes.  We should have the results soon; as soon as I know something, be it morning, noon, or night, I will report to you, Ember."

Demitra swallowed the lump in her throat.  Her skin almost seemed to pulsate with each heartbeat.  "M-my love?"

Ember looked at Demitra.  Something was off about her tone; something that said in unspoken words the seriousness and gravity of what she was about to say shouldn't be ignored.

"I must confess something."

Paige took the opportunity to excuse herself, walking over to the table and unraveling a scroll across it.  She began talking aloud, perhaps to the couple if they still listened… or, more likely, so that she could ignore their intimate conversation.  The woman felt as though enough privacy had been invaded…  "Since it has the feel of Djinn magic, and there's lots of Elonian sand for me to work with… I should just need the torch, Demi (and her gifts, I think)… Maybe focused through me… Oh how exciting!"

"What is it?" Ember said, growing concerned.

Demitra took in a breath, held both hands, and knelt down to Ember, looking up with sorrowful eyes.  "I… I have something to… I have something to confess.  I… I am so sorry.  I think… I think that my magic may have caused… your… drake's…"  The woman's voice fell flat.  She couldn't continue.

Ember's looked visibly pale, her body was as frigid as Demitra's bracers and her eyes seemed to dim at the news.  She sat like an unblinking immobile statue.

Paige had been speaking to Ari, who had arrived with a field report, but one look to Ember's tear-filled eyes immediately drew her away.  "N-Not now Ari," she said, dismissing the soldier.  She began to approach the couple.

"But, Lady Paige… this may have relevance it's about the dra-"  Ari was cut off.

"Ari, please, dear… read the room.  This is a delicate matter…" She said, brushing her soldier off.  It was uncharacteristic, but her heart took over.

Ariadne simply nodded, "Yes, milady."

"Love… I cannot express to you how heart wrenching such a thing… Ember?  I… I did not know… I… Can you ever forgive my faults?"  Demitra implored.

Ember said softly, "You… You killed my baby?"

Paige stepped forward.  "Ember!  We don't know that!  I refuse to accept that she did it!  It goes against everything I have seen from her!"

Demitra looked up at Paige, sparkling tears rolling down her cheeks.  She held up a gauntlet, rolling up sleeve up to expose her entire arm as white as snow.  "This… This is proof; My… My powers are erratic."

Paige swiped down with her hand.  "Erratic or not, I would see you throwing yourself into a sand-shark's maw before hurting one of Ember's children!  So don't pretend that your dangerous.  Not when we don't know all the facts!"  Paige spoke with an authority even she was surprised at.

"I…" Demitra blinked.

"And Ember, look inside your heart!  Do you think for a moment that even on an accident, Demitra would harm one of your children and not know it?  This… This whole thing…"  Paige threw her arms in the air in frustration.  "It just stinks; like a set-up."

Ari cleared her throat.  She wasn't entirely used to doing it, but taking Paige's advice to heart, the woman spoke softly and cautiously.  "Lady Paige, I believe this report may show exactly that."

Paige raised an eyebrow, then went to receive the report.

Demitra stayed with Ember, carefully reaching up to take the woman's hand, who hadn't said a word, and worried she would pull away.  "Please Ember… I… I am so very sorry!"

Ember sat motionless.

"This… This report…  Has it been confirmed by artificers?  We need to make sure they match."  Paige was speaking in low tone to Ari, who was nodding.  "Then if this isn't the mirrored glass Demitra's magic created."  The woman's hazel eyes grew wide.  "Someone set her up?  Who… Who would try to frame Demitra?  I mean who even knew she was here?  The support staff… those on the beach at the coronation…" Paige was absently pacing.

"Your orders, Lady Paige?" Ari stood at attention, but glanced to her distraught captain.

"Well, there's a lot of people that may want a piece of House Dejarin (Kormir knows I've been visited in my bedroom by skulkers twice now!), so there are a lot of opportunities for gathering intel about our guest.  The real question is why," Paige tapped her chin a few times.  "Ari, I have a special assignment for you.  You are one of my best hunters, and Six has a stake in this too, if my hunch is correct.  I need you to find someone who can stalk the shadows.  They will find us; just start spreading rumors.  Hopefully with a bit of luck, we can use their services to gather a bit of intel on just who could be behind this."  She cleared her throat, "And you can start the next time you are in the tavern with your comrades," Paige said, in a scolding voice.

Ari, normally steadfast and immobile, blushed.

Demitra may have felt the embarrassment had she not been so focused on Ember.  Her eyes were glistening with silver sparkling tears of a sorrowful Djinn.  "Ember? L-love… I… I  wish for us to be okay."

"We're fine," Ember said dryly.

"No I mean… Ember Drakenfist," Demitra knelt at the woman's feet.  "I wish us to be wed."

Ember sat, staring at her lover; the question somewhat lost on her.  Paige had picked up the question, immediately freezing.  Ari refrained from speaking even though she wanted to and bit her bottom lip slightly at the scene.  A hush came over the women, each waiting with baited breath, until finally, Paige couldn't stand it.

"Oh Ember!  This is a perfectly romantic moment!  It's even autumn with the changing leaves and…"  She covered her mouth with the realization she was interrupting.

Demitra faltered a moment, uneasy and hesitant.  "I… I thought this is what we wanted?  I… thought this was traditionally required when such a question was asked.  Have I… done it wrong?"  Her cheeks flushed.

Ember's gaze was past the moment; her mind past the balcony, through the sand on the beachfront, and into the drake's nest with Scarra.  "I… I… can't."

"Really Ember?" Paige was furious at her surrogate sister.  "She's asking you to be her wife!"

Demitra's right eye slightly flickered, as both came filled with tears.  "You… You no longer want me?"

"I just… I do love you, but… I don't… I don't know what happened, down there."

Paige fumed.  "This report shows that the mirrored glass that Demitra conjured was not what was used on the hatchling, Ember!  She…. She's been set up (for some reason!), and she was not responsible!  Ember, look into your heart!"

Demitra covered her mouth.  "You… You fear me," she said, feeling Ember's emotions.

Ember shifted in her chair.  "I… I don't fear you.  I just… I need to know what happened down there."  She looked over to Paige.  "I'll… take a look at the report.  I just… Demitra just said that she may have been responsible… I can't… I just can't right now."

The Elonian woman let go of Ember's hand.  She stood, wiped her cheeks, took a few steps to the balcony overlook.  She leaned against the railing, her ice hands freezing it, cascading across the entire railing.  She pulled her hands away, staring at the almost completely white and blue ice crystals that were once her fingers.  Her right eye fluctuated from emerald to sapphire.

Lady Paige took a step closer to Ember, noted Demitra's freezing of the railing.  "She needs you, Ember.  Something's happening to her, and you just broke her heart.  Djinn or not, she's still the same woman you fell in love with."

"Is she?" Ember mumbled, observing the scene.

Paige could have slapped the woman (and almost did so).  "I don't know who did this yet, but I will find out; I swear it.  Ari's going to find a shadow contact and we're going to get to the bottom of this."

Demitra turned around to stare at the women with one blue and one green eyes.  "It… It appears to be… getting worse," she said with a icy breath.

"Then we'll need to do the ritual soon!  Gather your belongings; Ari, you'll be needed too.  We must leave for the ruins immediately!"  Paige was already rolling her scrolls up.

"Lady Paige Dejarin?  Where… Where are we to travel to?  I may have misunderstood such dialect, but I believe you explained the entrance was not where you thought it would be…"

Paige shoved the scrolls into her pack.  "We shall travel to the last place where the magical essence of the vault was known to be.  It will increase our chances of using the torch to figure out its whereabouts.  I was the last to exit the vault, before it vanished, at the ruins of my family's land, in…"

"Elona," Demitra gasped.  "It seems my destiny is always tied to this place."

"You sure about this?"  Ember rubbed the back of her neck, trying to skirt past the awkwardness of Demitra's proposal rejection.  "I almost died the last time I was there, you know.  Maybe I should stay put…"

Demitra gracefully came to Ember's side.  "Ember?  I would very much wish for you to come.  I… I would welcome you… in spite of what has transpired."

"I… Okay… If it will help," Ember looked at Demitra's saw the dried glitter from her tears on her cheeks, then saw the two separate colored eyes.  The blue familiarity of it caught the woman by surprise, and she took in a deep breath at the thought.  "Yeah… We should… we should probably get going then."

Demitra could feel the conflicts raging in her lover.  She decided to stay back for a few moments as Paige and Ember and Ari retreated into the manor.  She looked at the railing, then at the smoke created by the mist of the cold gauntlets.  Through the fog, she could almost see a figure.

[To Be Continued...]