Sian walked ahead and Antrandis followed. After what seemed like hours, Sian finally caught sight of a ray of afternoon sunlight penetrating the mist ahead. She could make out Winter’s form, a long shadow being cast into the mist as they neared the edge of the decay. Wavering, her eyes half closed, she felt a hand pull at her upper arm, guiding her as she stumbled, holding her up. Sian looked to her helper through the heavy mist, Winter’s eyes glowed a strange shade of copper, her appearance foreign. Sian shook her head, trying to turn, but she was pushed ahead, a hand at her back.
‘Keep moving, Consort. You are almost out, don’t slow.’ came a reassuring voice from behind, one that was both Winter’s and yet, not.
Sian continued to stumble forwards as her vision dimmed, the mist thinning with each step, each breath she took laborious. Without warning she was in the sunlight, blinded as she stepped over the threshold out of the blighted land. She took a few more steps before collapsing to the sandy shale, the water’s edge only feet from where she was on all fours. She shook her head again, attempting to maintain consciousness before letting herself fall to her side. The image of those unfamiliar copper eyes in her mind. Rolling onto her back, she caught a glimpse of a dryad, standing on the shore a short way off, holding the pouch Antrandis had handed to Winter. The dryad was crying, fear rooting her to the spot.
Sian’s hearing was tunnelling as her consciousness slipped further. Her head lolled toward the mist, her eyes witnessing Antrandis being held up, every one of his steps uncertain as he carried Silvast. Twin, fiercely glowing copper eyes shone from the mist, a large, webbed, dragon or bat-like wing spread above and over him, shielding him from the ash as he placed one step ahead of another. Sian blinked rapidly, looking to the sky as she willed herself to remain conscious.
She directed her sight back to Antrandis. Confusion catching her as he and Winter stood in the sunlight, her eyes steel grey, one feathered wing casting shade over them both as she held him close with one arm around him. Sian concentrated, managing to stay awake by the thinnest of margins. She coughed, gulping in fresh air, the world spinning around her as she watched Winter attend to Antrandis while he stood in the sunlight. His eyes were closed and he was deliberately breathing deeply.
Winter followed closely while he recovered quickly from the effects of the blight, shrugging off the worst of the malaise and walking more assuredly. He knelt near Sian, carefully laying Silvast down, before crouching at the river’s edge, drinking deeply and splashing his face with water. Winter quickly moved to Sian’s side, propping her up, holding the flask of water to her lips. Sian sputtered, clean water running down her throat as she struggled to swallow. Sian pulled back slightly, looking at Winter apprehensively.
‘Who are you?’ Sian said hoarsely, the ash still lining her throat.
‘Sian, what do you speak of?’ Winter said with a concerned look.
Sian stared at her, a measure of confusion in her eyes, the image of but a moment before flashed through her mind. The copper glow, the dragon-like wings. She stared at Winter hard, and only steel grey eyes looked back at her in concern.
‘Sian, are you well? What is wrong?’
Sian blinked, shaking her head and turned to where she saw the dryad, to find nothing.
‘The Evergreen, where is it, the pouch?’
Winter eyed her, slipping her hand into her jacket and withdrawing the pouch, showing her, ‘Here.’
Sian stared at it, then back at Winter.
‘What did you see in the mist?’ asked the valkyrie.
‘I am not sure what I saw anymore, just that… It was a phantasm, a vision, nothing more.’ Sian said as much to herself, as to Winter.
She must have been hallucinating, her senses being twisted by the mist while she brushed against the edge of consciousness. The toll of struggling though the blight had been heavier than she expected. She struggled into a seated position.
‘How long were we in there?’ she asked of Winter.
‘Maybe, ten minutes, not long.’
‘By the gods, it felt like hours.’ Sian commented, watching Antrandis lean over Silvast.
Her breathing was already strengthening now that she was free of the blighted ground. Antrandis looked over to Sian, meeting her eyes.
‘Rest for a few moments more, Sian. At least, are you feeling better?’
Sian nodded, quickly glancing at Winter, ‘I am just trying to make sense of what I saw.’
‘My love, that is not normal blight that we walked through, only once we were in there did I realise what Silvast had done.’
‘It shows, you can know a person for an eternity, but still not know what they are capable of.’ Antrandis looked at Silvast with a gentle smile, ‘Silvast had nothing of her own to cast that spell with. She was desperate, she drew on the dark power of the eclipse, chaos, along with the life-force of the forest to help her form that message.’
He moved, crouching in front of Sian, looking into her eyes closely.
‘I am not surprised that you felt your sight was affected. That you saw things differently.’ he looked back to the edge of the blight, ‘We were walking through a mist formed with and laced with chaotic energy. Much like the smoke of a dream-weed, or herb.’ Antrandis’s eyes hardened, ‘It created the perfect protection, and at the same time a prison.’ he looked at Silvast, ‘I can not tell if she is dreaming. I hope she is not.’
‘If she is dreaming?’ asked Winter.
‘If she dreams, they will only be nightmares, the very things that would drive terror into her.’
Sian looked at Silvast as she lay unconscious. Her expression quickly darkening. ‘My love, we can not revive her yet. If she dreams as you suggest, she will need the both of us.’
Antrandis nodded in understanding, ‘You wish to speak to her as you did before?’
Sian nodded, ‘In the case of being trapped with her worst fear, it should help.’
‘Is there anything that can be done for the moment?’ asked Winter.
Sian looked at Antrandis knowingly, watching him slowly unbuttoned Silvast’s blouse, exposing her upper chest.
‘Winter?’ he gestured for her to prop Silvast up, as she did so he slid his hands up and under the back of Silvast’s blouse to loosen the supportive bindings on her chest.
‘Do you remember the Battle of Scarosant?’ he asked as slipped the blouse to expose the tops of Silvast’s shoulders.
‘I remember. Silvast herself was your consort at the time. The fortress of Scarosant was not complete, many of Meliandra’s craftsmen were injured in the siege. There were stories that came from the aftermath, rumours that even I found hard to believe.’ Winter said as she shifted to place Silvast’s head and shoulders on her lap.
‘Believe them, Winter. You are no longer chained to the Temple and the immediate city of Meliandra. You can finally come out and experience the world around you. You will see things, experience things that you have been kept from for all this time.’
She smiled, ‘I have been quite sheltered.’
Antrandis smiled slightly, taking a damp piece of cloth that Sian handed him, gently wiping off Silvast’s face and neck. After a few moments he finished, a concerned look on his face as he tended to her. He carefully lifted one of her eyelids and checked her eye. He frowned, checking her other eye, its bright silver unresponsive.
Sian’s voice came to him, ‘What is it?’
He continued to check Silvast over, ‘She is not sleeping.’
Sian glanced at him as they continued their internal discussion, ‘Are you certain?’
Antrandis looked up, back at the blighted forest, a frown creasing his brow, ‘She knew exactly what she was doing.’
He leaned down and touched his forehead to Silvast’s, expanding his consciousness to envelope hers. After a few moments he sat back, meeting Sian’s questioning eyes.
‘Nor does she dream.’
Sian stared at him, speaking out loud, ‘She is not sleeping, neither dreaming, is she unconscious?’
Antrandis chuckled to himself, noticing Winter’s bemused expression, ‘Silvast is hibernating.’
Sian looked at him, a strange expression on her face, ‘Hibernating?’
‘She is severely depleted, whatever drained her of her power took it all. Right now I can restore a measure of it, enough to rouse her, but she will be weak.’
‘Then, she made that,’ Winter nodded at the ruined part of the forest, ‘To protect herself to a degree?’
Antrandis nodded, ‘It served that purpose, intentional or not.’ he said, gently tipping Silvast’s head back.
Winter watched with curiosity as Antrandis and Sian shared a look. Sian withdrew a short dagger from the sheath tucked into her boot and handed it to him. Sian nodded, already wincing slightly and clenching her right hand in anticipation. Antrandis swiftly cut into the meat of his right thumb, blood welling up fast from the open wound. He quickly drew a small sigil on Silvast’s neck at the junction of her collar bones and a larger sigil ringed in a circle in the middle of her chest in his blood. As his thumb started to heal he ran a line between the two, before finally pressing a thumb print to her forehead as the wound finished healing.
Winter barely noticed as Sian flexed her hand experimentally, so rapt was her attention on Antrandis while he hovered his hand over Silvast’s chest. He concentrated, the stormy depths of his eyes spitting sparks as a deep blue glow built within them. A faint golden glow built in the space between his hand and the sigils of blood. They seemed to shimmer until, without warning they shifted from blood red to gold, flaring and shining in the shadow that Antrandis cast over her.
Sian took a hold of his free hand, he directed power into the gap between his hand and the golden sigils. Blinding golden light now steadily growing, a quiet roaring sound filling the air as the sigils did their job, drawing and absorbing Antrandis’s power, channelling it into Silvast at a steady pace. He closed his eyes, concentrating, slowing the flow as the sigils drank greedily. Sian squeezed his free hand as she saw a flutter of Silvast’s eyelids, prompting him to slow the flow even further. A few moments later he opened his eyes and broke off the transfer, not wanting to give too much too quickly. Antrandis bent low and watched Silvast intently. A smile coming to his face as he noted the movement under her eyelids.
He reached out and caressed her cheek, speaking quietly, ‘Silvast, you are safe now. We have you.’
Antrandis quickly looked to Sian and Winter before looking back down at Silvast, a smile growing quickly as her eyes opened. Twin, bright silver eyes slowly focused on his own, a small tired smile pulling at her lips. Silvast attempted to talk, her eyes on his, but only managed a dry croak. She blinked, her eyelids heavy and slow. Antrandis leaned in, his ear close.
She swallowed before whispering weakly into his ear, ‘You… look… terrible.’
A smile came to his eyes and he whispered back to her, ‘You do too.’