Part 1 - 'Missing'
Several days later…
The journey from the desolate Trollfells passed quickly, with tales of Moorin’s and the Daemonslayers’ individual exploits being freely swapped as the four travelled, spirits high. As they neared Moorin’s home, the great degarii’s jovial mood grew sober, “My woman’s going to kill me for running off on another quest, isn’t she?” The spirit, or temper, if you wished to be less delicate, of his wife Katlinia was legendary. Wandering far from her home in the jungles of the Lesser Wilds, she had been a warrior and adventurer like her husband, meeting him when they had shared the misfortune of crossing the same hungry manticore. Since the birth of their daughter Crislana she had put her wild wanderer days behind her but this had done nothing to quell her indomitable nature and firedog temper.
Blackjack laughed, “Don’t worry, we’ll be right behind you. Probably by a couple of miles.” It was no secret that Katlinia had no love for Moorin’s draconic friend. Though she knew nothing of Blackjack’s true identity, she did know he was really a dragon to whom Moorin was thralled by the blood spell that granted him longevity. She resented the thought that her husband was bound to him by such magic and made no secret of this.
Mid-afternoon brought the final bend in the lumpy, uneven forest road. It revealed a large clearing within which were a modest smallholding and a very, very angry Katlinia. Ward marks a few miles back carved into stones hidden either side of the road had been triggered by the group’s passing and alerted her to their imminent arrival. Hands on hips she stood at the edge of the road, fur bristling, tail lashing from side to side behind.
“We’ll just wait here, shall we?” Blackjack suggested as Moorin dismounted. The three Daemonslayers busied themselves with dismounting and tending to their steeds to avoid eye contact with the irate degarii. The dark stripe markings against the pale brown fur of her face were visibly pulled into a scowl but as her husband stepped up to her, the rage in her eyes transformed into something else.
“Where have you been?” she gasped. Momentarily forgetting her rage, she flung her arms around her husband. At a little under six foot, Katlinia was considered tall for a normal degarii and it was one of the reasons she had never felt like she quite fitted in with the tribe she left many years ago, but still at almost two metres tall Moorin towered over her and she looked fragile encircled by his four burly arms. The embrace lasted only a moment before her yellow-gold eyes flashed open and a slight snarl curled her graceful muzzle. She stepped back and her angry glare signalled the beginning of the chastisement. Forgetting the present company she slipped from Common Tongue into the native tongue of the degarii, the feline yowling and hissing tones as she spoke quickly and angrily with much pointing and finger-jabbing made clear her displeasure. Moorin looked suitably cowed, ears and whiskers drooping as he utterly failed to get a word in edgeways.
Despite keeping his head down, Blackjack was not to be exempt. Momentarily done with her husband, Katlinia tossed back her long red hair as she stalked over and then jabbed a clawed finger at Blackjack’s chest, head tilted back only a little to meet his gaze, “I’ll bet this was all your doing. I’ve said before and I say again: you’re bad news and a bad influence! No wonder Crislana has grown to be so wilful with you around.” Soul and Shade exchanged a wry glance and tried to hide the smirks from their faces as, like Moorin, Blackjack endeavoured unsuccessfully to get a word in edgeways as the venomous diatribe continued, “Moorin’s always getting dragged off on quests or whatever it is you do and then when he is home bad eggs like you and your ilk turn up!” The latter remark wiped the smiles from their faces.
“Hey!” protested Soul, “Don’t tar us with the same brush as that ne’er-do-well!” Blackjack shot her a contemptuous glare over Katlinia’s head.
Katalinia appeared to notice the presence of the other two Daemonslayers for the first time and turned to face them, “Well, I suppose you two are okay,” she conceded reluctantly, “Though why you put up with him” she jerked a thumb over her shoulder and was answered by an indignant snort from the dracosvulf, “I’ll never know.”
Finally able to speak Moorin asked, “What do you mean ‘wilful’? What’s Crislana been doing this time?”
Katlinia threw her hands up in exasperation “Ah! The usual. I don’t ask much of her but today I specifically asked her to come to market with me. Come first light she just ran off to do her own thing instead.” She huffed, sighed and unconsciously licked the back of her hand and brushed it through her hair and down over her pointed ear. In a calmer tone she bid her visitors come inside.
Within, the isolated house was furnished practically but comfortably. Weapons of all varieties and in all states of repair lined the walls: a testament to Moorin and Katlinia’s colourful pasts and their many joint adventures. The kitchen area at the far end of the main living room was dominated by a great soot-blackened hearth and huge table of dark hardwood carven with heraldic designs and motifs of food and feasting. On it were the preparations she had been making for dinner – raw meat ready for a stew and vegetables still to be chopped. As the others sat down here Katlinia proudly waved away offers of help as she heaved a well-used copper kettle above the fire to boil before joining them. She sighed again, “Crislana’s off with some local girls, messing about with potions and some magic book one of them has. I wouldn’t mind but the others are all much older than her and sometimes she’s too naïve. Ever since she started running with that lot she’s been stubborn, sullen and of such a quick temper.”
“I can’t imagine where in the world she could have gotten those traits from otherwise,” said Blackjack innocently.
“She just sounds like a typical teenager to me,” said Soul, jabbing the dracosvulf in the ribs as she tried to sooth Katlinia.
“But she never used to behave like this!” the strong warrioress almost wailed. Moorin pulled her chair closer to his with his lower right arm and put his upper arm around her shoulders, giving his wife a reassuring hug. “It’s just a phase, love. She’ll grow out of it!”
Blackjack chuckled and hooked one of the strips of raw meat off the chopping board with his claws before Katlinia could stop him, ignoring the withering glare he received for it, “Why worry? She was up to all that malarkey before last winter! Is she still dressing in black lace and claiming to worship the earth gods?” he asked with a smirk.
Katlinia sighed again, “Yes: she’s still dressing like an expensive crow. But I think her coven calls upon..” she wrinkled her short muzzle as she tried to recall, the movement creasing the dark brown stripes over her eyes, “Shargrul, I think she said once. Some silly Elder Beast, anyway,” she replied with an annoyed, dismissive wave.
Blackjack choked on the meat.
“Shargrul?” Shade echoed weakly as his companion noisily swallowed the misdirected mouthful. Soul looked at him questioningly.
Katlinia laughed “Oh, come on! You’re not going to tell me the Elder Beasts are real, are you?” In all her adventures she had encountered all forms of beings she would have scoffed at the existence thereof had she led a more sheltered life. However, not once had she encountered any evidence to convince her that the frightful Elder Beasts, the Things From Beyond were anything more than myths told to frighten small children into obedience.
Blackjack shook his head, the expression on his long muzzle clearly showing he did not think this something to laugh about, “Shargrul’s not his real name and he’s no Elder Beast. Shargrul is the human name for Izael, the Daemon Lord of one of the lower planes!”
Katlinia stopped laughing, “What?” her voice was small and shocked.
Shade frowned and sat up from his casual slouch, “If you’re right about that then the instant Crislana and her pals called upon his name they were in danger. If you go around calling up hell-daemons then, sooner or later, they’re going to call you down.” He was about to continue and explain that the dark nights around when the blood moon was full, like tonight, would be of particular danger but something about the sidelong glance Blackjack gave him suggested it would be better not to. Katlinia and Moorin were already looking alarmed enough.
“Where is she now?” Moorin asked quickly.
“She went up into the woods with her friends. I’m not sure where – they’ve a secret hideout somewhere.”
“The weird sisters?”
Katlinia nodded unhappily in affirmation, “We have to find her,” she said, rising from the table.
“I’ll go-” began Moorin but was interrupted.
“No. You go to the other girls’ parents, check if they’re not back already. Blackjack? You’re taking me up on that flying donkey of yours to look for her in the woods.”
Blackjack grumbled at being issued commands but behind Katlinia’s forceful stare he could see the heart of a frightened mother. Though not the most compassionate of people these were his friends and his vague sense of loyalty prevailed, “Fine. Yes ma’am.”
Not even remembering to take the kettle from the stove, Katlinia swept out of the room, grabbed her favourite sword with its dusty scabbard from its rack on the wall and snapped at Blackjack to get a move on.
As they waited while Moorin went upstairs to fetch a cloak, Shade turned to Soul “Mech’? Could you go with Moorin? He’s not exactly known for his tact..” he left the quiet remark hanging as Soul needed no elaboration. Though friendly and personable the old warrior was not exactly renown for his skill in ‘delicate’ matters and would probably wade in with tales of evil Daemon Princes and end up terrifying the parents in question into being unable to even recall where their offspring had gone. Soul nodded, “Okay. I guess we’d have a mass-panic on our hands if I leave him to it.”
Outside Blackjack swung easily up onto Knightmare’s back. Slapping away the dire unicorn’s half-hearted attempt to bite his leg he reached down and offered a hand to Katlinia. She pointedly ignored it and got up behind him unaided, “Suit yourself then.” He muttered.
“I’ll search on the ground.” Shade appeared without warning to their right, making Katlinia jump. Blackjack was used to Shade’s habit of moving with easy stealth but Katlinia had never quite been able to get used to the undead werewolf, finding him disquieting at the best of times. Oblivious to her reaction Shade continued, “If you see anything get Knightmare to blast some fire: I’ll do likewise,” he said and patted the Fireblade, currently hung from the Steed’s saddle, to illustrate the point.
Blackjack nodded then kicked his heels into Knightmare’s flanks, “Let’s go.” The beast whinnied loudly, unfurled his great membranous wings and with a single sweep of them leaped majestically skyward, red hooves burning with eldritch fire as they struck the air. The wind rushed loudly in his riders’ ears but not so loudly that Katlinia could not make herself heard when she quietly growled, “If any harm’s come to her, you’re going to regret it.” Into Blackjack’s notched ear.
He could just see her from the corner of his eye but made no spoken comment. I suppose parents need anyone to blame but themselves he mused, not harried by her anger.
They searched fruitlessly for an hour or so. Knightmare soared high over open fields and meadows and then low enough to graze the treetops in areas where the foliage was too dense to see from afar. At one point they scared up a colony of roosting scratin and were surrounded by a vortex of small leathery wings, shrill, nerve-grating cries and sharp spindly claws. A blast of fire from Knightmare saw the vicious hoard quickly depart and they left the unpleasant night-scavengers far behind.
As time wore on and afternoon gave way to sunset Katlinia became increasingly agitated and commanding, which in turn led Blackjack to become increasingly irritated and impatient with his passenger until he was about to tell her to get off or he'd throw her off. Just then a flash of brilliant fire from a nearby hillside seared through the gathering twilight.
“Looks like Shade’s luck is in for a change.” Blackjack remarked as they galloped towards the beacon’s source.
When they landed they found Shade waiting for them. At some point during the afternoon, it seemed, he had lost a fight with a briar patch. His long blonde hair was a mess with a few leaves thrown in for good measure and he was covered in rapidly fading scratches. Still, he stood waiting with his usual patience, leaning casually against the armoured flank of the Steed which stood unmoving, impassive as ever. He uncrossed his arms and stood forward as he watched Knightmare and passengers, a dark silhouette against the sky, glide in to land. The dire unicorn’s burning hooves struck up coruscations of sparks as he touched down, the earth extinguishing the magical fires.
“Have you found her?” demanded Katlinia. Impatient, she leaped nimbly from Knightmare’s back before he reached a standstill and hurried over.
Shade shook his head and indicated toward the dense foliage behind him, above which rose a short cliff caused by a fault line in the earth. “Not quite, but I know where she’s been: there’s a cave in there full of badly-drawn magical symbols and the sort of cheap charms you get at the market. It looks and smells recently occupied.”
“Show me!” Katlinia grabbed his arm and yanked him along toward the cliff, ignoring his yelp of protest. Drawing her sword she slashed at the clumps of thornweed before her, clearing further the path Shade had already made “Is this it?” she asked when they broke free of the scratching, clawing foliage and reached the dark gash in the limestone cliff.
“Yeah. It’s not deep, either.” He started to reply but she had already disappeared inside. Blackjack caught up with him just before he followed her in and regarded Shade with some bemusement.
“What in the Abyss happened to you, F’lair?” he asked in response to the minor cuts and scrapes, already regenerating, which covered Shade’s face and arms.
“I had a run-in with a colony of angry scratin,” replied the lycanthrope, sounding like he did not wish to discuss the matter further.
“Oh.” Blackjack’s expression remained innocent, “Bad luck.”
Katlinia stuck her head out of the cave, “Are you coming in or are you two going to stand there nattering like some old biddies all night?” she snapped, “And Shade, I need some light in here.”
“I thought sarcasm was my department,” muttered Blackjack. Shade just shrugged and summoned the magical flame back to the Fireblade before ducking into the low aperture.
After a few claustrophobic yards where a halfling would struggle to stand upright the low tunnel’s ceiling rose abruptly to about ten foot, allowing the three to stand comfortably once more. They found themselves in a sizeable grotto that narrowed at its far end to form a dark fissure too small for even a child to squeeze through. The smooth walls were, as Shade had already said, covered with inexpertly scrawled runes and sigils mingled with crude paintings and hand prints. On natural ledges and dangling off ‘hooks’ made by sticks rammed into cracks in the rock were strewn various gaudy and cheap-looking charms and talismans, none of which held any magical potency, along with some obviously hand-made ones. To its current occupants’ expert eyes, the cave was obviously the lair of people who played at dabbling with the occult, having no real idea what they were doing beyond attempting to look mystical.
“I recognise this” said Katlinia suddenly, her voice made hollow by the ancient stone surrounding them. She was reaching to touch a dream catcher hanging from the ceiling, “Crislana spent days working on it. The knots kept coming undone and I offered to help her with it but she refused, saying she had to make it herself.” She stared at the circle and net with its beads and feathers before moving on to inspect other of the paraphernalia.
Blackjack’s attention was caught by the triqueta design in red chalk on the floor but the sigils decorating its edges transpired as harmless, “I’m not seeing anything relating to Izael so far. Hopefully you’re worrying about nothing, Kat’.”
“I pray so.” She said quietly, then in a much more irritable and Katlinia-like tone added, “And it’s Katlinia to you, Blackjack.”
Careful not to let the Fireblade ignite anything, Shade used the toe of his boot to tug a black, silver star-embroidered cloth from the lumpy object it covered. It revealed a battered, leather-bound tome of indeterminate age, circled by seven stout black candles, “Black’ you might want to look at this.” he stepped back when Blackjack approached to spare him the Fireblade's heat.
His face now serious, Blackjack took the precaution of kicking a couple of the candles over to break any possible charm held by the circle before picking up the book.
“I thought nothing here was magical,” said Katlinia, wondering why the dracosvulf was taking such care.
“In my line of work you learn pretty fast that you can’t be too careful.”
Preoccupied with the cave floor, Katlinia did not reply. Eyes fixed on the ground she ducked out of the cave.
“Our line of work, you mean,” corrected Shade. He watched Katlinia leave, wondering what she had seen.
Blackjack leafed through the book and from his expression Shade correctly guessed, “And we have a winner?”
“I hope not.” Blackjack stopped flicking through the pages, read a certain passage more carefully then snapped the book shut and stalked decisively over to the end of the grotto, just before the point where the walls narrowed sharply ahead of the fissure. “Can I get some more light here?” His gaze tracked upward, following a certain pattern of sigils that formed a ring across the wall, ceiling and floor. At certain points, seven in total, were candleholders containing more of the stocky black candles.
Katlinia reappeared and interrupted the silence, “I’ve been studying the tracks by the tunnel entrance: seven people came in here very recently but only one left.”
“Then where did the others go?” mused Shade, watching curiously as Blackjack used a tinderbox to light the seven candles.
As the last candle was lit Blackjack flipped open the heavy book and spoke the words of a shiveringly arcane language. As the last writhing syllables of the cantrip were spoken the candles flickered, went out, then flared into new radiance, their light a grotesque and unnatural deep blue that was somehow more disturbing than any hellish red could have been. A glowing network of beams of this unhealthy light joined each candle, forming the pattern of what was known as the Initiates Septogram, “Through here, I believe.” Blackjack answered.
“This isn’t my idea of a good time,” Soul commented as she and Moorin miserably trudged along the path that led to the nearby village of Nuln. So far they had spoken unsuccessfully to two sets of parents and with a few poorly chosen words from Moorin had set one mother into hysterics. Upon hearing the true nature of their children’s ‘games’ the other parents mourned their daughter as lost already. Soul had tried to point out that they were just missing so far, but was rewarded with the recital of a legend known only to the elders of the area; about a time before the dark elves were driven out by the Empire and how this night they would sacrifice their children to Sharnurael, a patron Daemon Prince.
“You don’t suppose that legend’s true, do you?” Moorin asked after a while. He had been unusually quiet and sombre. “Only me and Kat’ haven’t lived in this area all that long and I hadn’t heard of it before.”
Soul shrugged, “Even if it is, the Lunaris were driven from this land centuries ago – even before Bloodbane took charge. No one would know the necessary rituals.”
“I hope not” replied the mutate with a sigh. He stopped walking and Soul, not looking where she was going, bumped into his right arms.
“Sorry.” She said after pulling the loose hairs from her mouth, “What’s up?” They had stopped at a fork in the road. To the right continued the way they were following and branching to the left was a narrow muddy path about which the dense trees seemed to loom more darkly. It was upon this way that Moorin’s gaze rested, “What’s up there?” she asked.
“Meesu, one of Crislana’s friends lives up there. I’ve never been to the cottage myself but Kat’ says there never seems to be anyone in when she’s called by.”
“So that’s next on our list?”
“I suppose so.” Soul did not wonder at the degarii’s uncharacteristic reluctance: she was not much relishing this task either.
The path was winding and poorly kept, its route concealed by the dense vegetation that crowded its edges. It was evident they were climbing the side of the valley and, from what Soul knew of the area’s geography, it was leading them into a small vale between two hills. Considering the valley they were in was not that big, it took surprisingly long for them to navigate and it was past sunsdown by the time they reached their destination.
“Great.” Muttered Soul, “We’re gonna have fun getting back along that path in the dark. Not. And it looks like no one’s home.”
They had found themselves in a broad clearing ringed by the most ancient and strangely twisted of trees. In its centre, surrounded by rambling, half dead herb and vegetable gardens sat a little thatched cottage that might once have been quite homely were it not so severely dilapidated. In the encroaching dusk the unlit lattice windows were black pits, soulless eyes from which unseen things might peer.
“We didn’t traipse through all that mud for nothing,” Moorin said as they approached the door.
Soul rapped lightly on the warped and wormy wood, “Hello?” she called then stepped back, watching those secretive windows for any signs of movement. She shivered as they reminded her of old legends she had heard of windows holding the memories of the long-dead faces that had once peered out of them.
Moorin made a grumbling noise then pushed past her and banged his fist on the door, not violently, but in his usual heavy-handed manner, “Hey! Anyone home?” he yelled as he hammered so loudly it echoed about the forest. Soul cringed as the almost sacred silence was so rudely shattered. As Moorin continued to bash, there was a sharp crack from behind the door, not unlike the sound of an old, frail latch being broken. The door swung slowly upon with the creak of protesting hinges.
“Nice going; you broke it!”
“Oops. I guess I forget my own strength sometimes.” Moorin looked genuinely contrite but it did not stop him from peering past the door into the dark hallway it revealed, his pale gold eyes flashing as they reflected the scarce final light of day. There were two doorways and a set of stairs off the little corridor.
“Hello?” Soul called again, “Sorry about your door.” She paused to listen but was answered only by silence. “Is anyone there?” her increasing unease was reflected by the uncertain note in her voice. The cottage should have been homely and quaint but instead felt unwelcoming and ill at ease. One of the two doors was slightly ajar, affording them a slender view of what lay within: a section of bare room with a curious design painted in something dark and red on the floor. Soul was certain she would recognise it if she could see more of it, and moved to open the door further. When she touched the wood the door suddenly slammed shut, cracking painfully against her outstretched fingers. "Ow!”
A rumble behind her from Moorin made her turn sharply and in the semi-darkness saw him flex his claws. Already on edge they both jumped when the other as yet unexplored door opened.
It revealed a slender waif of a girl, with pale skin, long black hair and large luminous eyes lit by the guttering glow of an oil lamp in her hand. “Oh. Hello. Can I help you?”
Soul’s mouth worked for a second as her brain desperately raced for something to say in light of the fact she and Moorin had basically just broken into this girl’s home, “Didn’t you hear us knocking?” she managed after an uncomfortable silence.
“I was outside gathering wood.”
“Oh. Uhm. Are your parents here?”
“No. They have gone to the market.” She looked at Moorin, “You’re Crislana’s father, Moorin?”
“Yes.” Soul noticed Moorin’s suspicious look just before he said, “Meesu, have you been with Crislana and the others today.”
“No,” replied the girl. Her dead straight raven hair slipped over her shoulders as she shook her head for emphasis. Her wide strangely violet eyes looked too innocent. She was lying. Soul frowned; although the full moon was past, with her lycanthropy her sense of smell was more powerful than a normal human’s and amongst the unusual miasma of scents surrounding the girl she could detect Crislana’s. A glance at Moorin told her his feline senses detected it too.
“Why are you lying?” he asked steadily, “I can smell that you’ve been around them.”
Meesu faltered and for just the most fleeting of moments Soul fancied something wildly dangerous flashed behind her eyes. “Oh… yes. I was with them earlier but I left them up at the den when I came home to … do my chores. If you give me a moment I could draw you a map to where they are.”
“That’d be very helpful of you.” The mistrust left Moorin’s face and he stepped aside so Meesu could get to the door of the strange room. Soul felt her hackles start to rise but before she could place or act on the warning sense Meesu had flung the door open and darted inside and into the centre of the cryptic floor design. Here she stopped and, arms raised, spoke an incantation in an unfamiliar and altogether unpleasant Elven tongue. The lines and sigils began to glow with a horrible blue light and at last Soul recognised it to be the Initiate’s Septogram, surrounded by designs she knew to be of Elven nature. Bathed in eerie blue light Meesu’s form changed, became taller, altering from slender girl to a beautiful, graceful woman with delicately pointed ears, dead straight jet black hair and the strangest hint of blue to her pallid skin.
“Lunaris!” yelled Soul just before the Lunaris, the dark elf, fixed them with a stare of her violet eyes and a terrible blast of energy leapt from her out flung arm and slammed into them.
Soul was sent flying and smacked into the wall, the breath knocked from her body but Moorin gallantly weathered the blow, the rage of a protective father giving him strength.
“What have you done with my daughter, witch?” Moorin growled, a leonine snarl making his voice as ferocious as the teeth he bared. He lunged at Meesu but, surprisingly quick as Moorin was given his bulk, the dark elf was faster and dodged easily around him with a fluid grace. As she summoned another attack spell she pirouetted with a girlish laugh… straight into Soul’s fist.
The Lunaris shrieked in outrage that an infidel had actually touched her and flung her right arm forward, fingers splayed. Another blast of invisible energy hit Soul and knocked her back into the wall but the witch could not follow through with another as she still had Moorin to contend with.
As fast and dexterous as any member of her race, Meesu stayed easily out of Moorin’s grasp. Knocked for six, Soul still managed to struggle to her feet. Her furious gaze, fixed on the dark elf’s lithe form, turned to an expression of concern when she saw Meesu’s lips moving in another incantation. The hairs on the back of her neck started to rise as the energies of whatever dark power it was Meesu sought to unleash gathered. Even Moorin visibly felt it, his shaggy brown fur standing on end. But before the spell was complete the elf paused, head cocked. “The portal!” she hissed and pointed a hand at the windowless exterior wall. A bolt of devastating purple energy blasted it open allowing her to flee into the fading twilight.
“I’m so glad that wasn’t directed at us,” Soul commented, eyeing the smoking remains of the wall as Moorin helped her up and started outside.
“Me too. Now come on!” the urgency in the warrior’s voice spurred Soul out through the ruin after him. They stopped to study the black forest at the back of the house only momentarily before Moorin caught sight of movement. Trusting to his superior night vision, Soul charged after him both determined not to lose their dangerous quarry.
There was a brief, stunned silence as the unhealthy blue light flooded the cave. Katlinia gasped, “A portal? We have to go through and find Crislana!” she started forward but Shade lowered the Fireblade across her path, blocking the way. She hissed and backed away from the flames.
“My guess would be someone has to stay here and keep those candles lit,” he said, unsurprised when Blackjack nodded affirmation.
“I’m not staying. If my daughter is trapped wherever that portal leads then that is where I must go!”
“I’m not prepared to let you take that risk,” Shade said, his tone reasonable but utterly firm.
“You think I won’t be able to fend for myself through there?” there was a livid, dangerous undertone in Katlinia’s voice and her eyes flashed with more than just their natural reflectivity.
“Listen. No one is questioning your abilities. I’ve seen you fight and to be honest even I wouldn’t want to be at the wrong end of your sword but, simply put, Shade and I have experience of the spheres beyond the Mortal Plane. You don’t. I know you’re a control freak but this is out of your hands.” Blackjack said firmly but not unkindly.
For a moment it looked like Katlinia was going to argue with further but then she sighed and took a step back, her head bowed and shoulders slumped, “I know. But if she really has been messing with daemon magic and if that portal really does lead where we think it might…” she trailed off, and put a hand to her eyes, “Cris is my little girl,” her voice was no more than a choked whisper.
Shade felt the pang of compassion for Katlinia who was normally so strong. “We’ll find her, Kat’. I promise.” He said.
Though the distraught mother failed to notice, Blackjack made no vocal comment but gave Shade a resolute look and then turned abruptly away to inspect the candles. “The portal will close without these: if any burns down swap it for the ones that were around the book. They should last until dawn.”
“And if they don’t?” asked Katlinia though she already suspected the answer.
“Let’s not think about that.” replied Shade, his eyes on Blackjack as the dracosvulf used one of his knives to remove a page from the book: On it was written the incantation that would open the way back to Tymaera when the time came. He carefully folded and placed the severed parchment in a pocket.
“Ready?” he asked, tossing the rest of the tome to Katlinia.
“No time like the present.” Shade said although his voice lacked in enthusiasm.
With a final glance back at the worried mother, the two steeled themselves and stepped brazenly into the sinister light of the portal…
End of part 1.
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