Scene in Citadel Castle after Aeval-Leigh's Disappearance

 “Nem, nem, nem—I do not like this,” Dhampir muttered as the covensisters’ boat approached Citadel Castle. “Ve should have demanded we meet with him somewhere within Speirling’s borders.” 

“You forget, he’s reigning peerage there too thanks to his marriage to Aev. We have nothing to fear as long as we’re honest and tell what we know--,” Ariadne offered. She grabbed onto Moyra’s hand, easing it away from the shorter woman’s archery bow. Thanks to her heritage, the last of the Baoisgne line had special permission to wear her weapons in public. She had a habit, however, of rubbing the recurve to soothe herself until the patch of wood was smoother than the rest. 

Neraida watched the interaction but said nothing of it, instead agreeing with the earlier statement. “Of-course-we-have-nothing-to-fear,” then slower to pronounce each individual word, “Duke Vex deserves answers. All he knows is that his wife has been missing for days. And you must admit, some of our excuses have been flimsy at best.” 

“Pokol—most likely, Grimblade said something to him,” Dhampir said. “He has seemed more and more suspicious. Or perhaps he only looks that way at me.” On impulse, she bore her fangs but retracted them upon seeing the others glare her direction.

“Maybe you should stop throwing his clanks into the storm! Those little bugger mechanicals are expensive!” Neraida said, then stuck out her tongue when the larger woman gave her a look.

After docking in one of the berths below the castle, the wharfinger himself led them to the great hall. Vex stood waiting at the end of a long ornate table, his back to them as they entered. He was dressed in his usual daily attire of a white ceremonial uniform with blue velvet trim and gleaming gold metal, a capelet pinned to one shoulder. From behind, this Duke of the Middle Sea resembled very much a prince from a book of fairy tales. But the covensisters knew that he was as much a strategist and pirate—or more so—than a royal. 

Admiral Darkwater, the Duke’s first-in-command and leader of the Caledon Navy, stood beside him facing the group. Though his long hair was also bound in the style of the pirate-royals of the Middle Sea, he stood as a dark-clad counter to the Duke. He motioned for them to take seats around the table. 

It seemed like an eternity of silence before the Duke spoke, whether by design to make his guests uncomfortable or simply to collect himself before speaking. With his back still to them, he asked, “I want to know—is she safe?” 

The group exchanged glances, not sure who should answer. Finally, Dantae stood, her violet-hued knuckles showing a brighter shade as she gripped her hands together. “We don’t know, your Grace. Though, you must realize, there is little that Aeval-Leigh couldn’t defend herself against.” 

With this, he turned to them, his pinched face growing blotched, showing his growing anger towards his guests. “So here you sit, professing to be her ‘family’ with such ‘powers’--and you have no idea if she’s been snatched back to face her mother or even fallen into that supposedly dead Witch’s clutches again?” The Duke’s fists clenched at his side—even the Admiral readied himself for what might come next. 

The covensisters knew Vex had once been a stalwart wizard in his own right before swearing off magick and embracing technology. However, many still believed him to infuse his inventions with mystical abilities. His armies of clanks, automata, and mechanoids were famous for their abilities to do feats and jobs that humans couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Rumors abounded but most Caledonians chose to look the other way.

Gears and cogs could be heard in the rooms surrounding the meeting hall—the sounds of mechanicals booting up and moving around. Half expecting ensorcelled battle clanks to appear at any moment to help the Duke get the answers he wanted, the covensisters braced themselves for a fight. 

Neraida’s intervention turned back what could have been a disastrous confrontation. Instantly taking her wind form, she spun a vortex in the room, forceful enough to drive everyone against the walls. “Behave-like-adults-or-I-can-keep-you-here-for-as-long-as-it-takes! I mean it!” 

After a few moments, she received adequate moans and grunts of agreement from both sides. The winds died down, leaving her diminutive humanesque form standing atop the table with her hands on her hips, her high-pitched voice rattling off the words. “I-can-do-that-again-you-know! We will get nowhere if we fight amongst ourselves. So all of you show respect to each other or this castle gets blown off the island! I mean it!” 

Vex dumped himself into the chair at the end of the table, ignoring the halo of ash-blond frizz that had worked its way from his bound hair. “It would seem you have been taking lessons on diplomacy from my wife.” 

Neraida giggled and hopped down from the table. “Of course! Learn from the best, I always say! She’s kept this motley crew in check—almost.” 

For another uncomfortable period of silence, Vex stared at his hands on the table, appearing lost as to what to say next. 

Dantae spoke up again, her voice both warm and melodic. “We realize you’re worried, your Grace. We are too. But Aeval-Leigh can take care of herself—you understand that, yes?” 

Vex then studied his guests, his face drawn. “I guess you’ve surmised why I summoned you here. If you don’t know where she is—” He sighed. “So—she’s left me? Already? Did she discuss this with any of you? I knew this—human—relationship might scare her off or eventually become boring, but...,” his voice broke and he looked back down at the table so the others couldn’t see his face. 

Dhampir, who had been playing with her obsidian beaded necklace as a distraction, spoke up, at first without lifting her gaze. “Nem—It vas me. Something I said made our little cica so angry that she left us all to fend for ourselves.” 

Dantae reached over and gripped Dhampir’s shoulder reassuringly. “We were all confused and emotional.” 

The Admiral spoke up for the first time. “As bricky as we assume Lady Aeval-Leigh to be, it might be of benefit for all involved if we knew what led up to the Duchess disappearing like she has.” He rested his hands on the conference table and leaned in. “Even the Governor has realized that something is amiss. We received a query this afternoon from Victoria City asking for her presence or an update of her whereabouts. No doubt the capital city’s chatty church-bells are having quite the time of it.” He snorted slightly.

Neraida, who had been in semi-repose against the wall since her show of force, interrupted the murmuring of the others. “Professor Caldwell found something in Caledon Sound—something related to Aeval-Leigh’s past.” She paused and motioned to her covensisters. “To all our pasts.” 

Vex leaned forward with his elbows on the table, his jaw resting against his folded hands as he thought of what next to say. “So, I’m assuming that means this whatever is related to the Witch?” 

There was an uneasy silence in the room. If the women revealed something that Aeval-Leigh had not told her husband, it could lead to the coven’s banishment—and hers—depending on how he chose to take the news. That is, when or if she ever returned.

Dantae, who had been twirling her white locks nervously, bravely broke the silence. “How—How much has Aeval-Leigh revealed to you, your Grace?” 

Vex looked at the other end of the room, over his guests’ heads while he spoke, as if he was reciting from memory. “I know that none of you are human—well, most of you. Some of your retinue may have once been normal mortals, but thanks to certain modes of unnatural transport, no longer age as we do.”

“Yes?” Dhampir prompted him as he paused.

“I also know that you are travelers, not only of many lands, but also time. And that you are adept in both natural magicks and occult technology, though you tend to hide most of that—some better than others.” He glanced at Dantae sitting at the opposite end and Neraida, who now stood behind her and gave a slight smirk before continuing. 

“Igen, but vhat of her past?” Dhampir asked, still toying with her necklace. 

“I know that she has seen more destruction than anyone should and that much of her past was extraordinarily dark. She tries not to speak of it,” He took a gulp of wine from the goblet that had been set on the table by one of the butler automata, making a face against the sweetness. “But I have a good idea.” He made a gesture and the waist-high mechanical butler took up the goblet, replacing it with a large flagon of Rosehaven mead.

Dhampir sighed. “Vhat has she told you of the High War-Mage Aettrynne of my clan, the Eravisci--the Witch? I am not certain a mortal mind could fathom vhat that one was capable of.” 

Vex gave a sideways glance to the Admiral, which went unnoticed and continued. “Again, I have a good idea. So how is the Witch related to the excavations in Caledon Sound?” 

“I can take care of that question.” Neraida said, slipping into her excitable scribe-speak mode but managing to avoid running the words together. “Aettrynne is ancient. I don’t mean from the time of Rome or Greece or even ancient Egypt--she’s from an age that makes those civilizations appear modern.”

“So the Olde World—” the Admiral offered, without inflection nor emotion.

Neraida shook her head. “Older. Much. Older. That was the era before even Atlantis and Mu, millennia earlier. She didn’t speak about where she came from much, at least not to us. She entrusted Aeval-Leigh with more but, it was obviously painful and she hated to show weakness.”

She stopped for a moment, looking around at her covensisters for affirmation before continuing. “The entire civilization died--from their own hubris--except for one young girl.” 

“Aettrynne,” Vex whispered. 

“Yes.” Neraida said and continued, “After using everything at their disposal to stop the oncoming destruction and failing, the elders pooled the last remaining magical and technological resources they had. The intention was to send her far enough into the future that she would survive the cataclysm and aftermath.” 

“Enough to scar anyone,” Vex said with a grimace. “I’m still not clear how that relates to Caledon and the excavations in the Sound?” 

Dhampir chimed in. “Apparently, ve are standing on their civilization—or vhat remains of it.” 

Finally, the Duke showed a look of incredulity. He stood and faced the Admiral. “Did you know of this?” 

Admiral Darkwater shook his head slowly, his countenance blank. “No, your Grace. This is the first I’ve heard of it.” 

Vex turned to face his guests once again. “What was it they found in the excavations, then?” 

Ariadne, who had been sitting in silence, holding Moyra’s hand while smoothing the woman’s wild tresses from the earlier nymph-storm, perked up, almost emulating Neraida’s excitable mannerisms. “You should see it, your Grace! So many wondrous mechanisms and texts and jewelry! Every time one of the submersibles resurfaced, they brought up a new bobby dazzler! Surely if Aeval-Leigh hadn’t disappeared, she would’ve fetched you—” 

The Duke’s lip hinted at a smile from the woman’s ardor. “Any other time, I would be there straightaway, properly securing the area. But I somehow do not think my wife made herself scarce over trinkets and ancient mechanical gizmos--” 

“Nem—It v-was the merkabas.” Dhampir cut in before he was quite finished. “They found merkabas--of course, they had no idea what they vere. But the Professor is quite gifted. He makes up for what he doesn’t already understand vwith dogged persistence. VWith all the texts they were bringing up, he and his teams will decipher it all, given enough time.” 

“But I thought the civilization was out of magically-powered devices? Wasn’t that part of the story?” The Duke asked as he leaned forward with interest. 

“For the most part, yes,” Dhampir explained. “These that vere found—they must have been defects. Unstable perhaps, or the shapes slightly amiss--but quite dangerous in unskilled hands, nonetheless, if they veren’t absolutely—dead.” 

Darkwater’s eyes seemed to come to life at the mention of the artifacts. “So we need to steal them to make sure that doesn’t happen. Sometimes it does help to have a crew of pirates at the ready to--” 

Dhampir held up her hand to cut him off. “Nem—already done--vell, almost already done. Our plan vwas to hide them in the vault under the pub at Tempest’s Point. But Caldwell may find more.” 

The Duke’s eyebrow raised. “Plan was to hide them in the vault?” He asked, not lifting his head from behind his hands which were folded in front of his chin. “Something went awry?” 

“They disappeared with Aeval-Leigh,” Dantae said quietly. 

“If I may interject, if she was only trying to hide the merkabas,” the Admiral spoke up, “I’m at a loss of why the Duchess is still missing and why she would leave so abrup--” 

“Pokol, because I accused her of colluding vith the VWitch.” Dhampir interrupted again. “I could not understand how, of all places to settle, she vould lead us here--vwhere Aettrynne’s life began eons ago. I accused my own sister to be a traitor to us all and who had staged our escape to play games vith us for the VWitch’s jollies. Of course, later I vished I had muzzled myself and stilled my tongue from speaking.” 

She paused, blinking as if trying to fight back tears. “If you had seen her face-- rage, hurt, and contempt all beaming from her. Then—pfoof!—in a flash, she vas gone. Even though I still do not understand vwhat brought us here vere it all began, I do not think it vas Aeval-Leigh. Or at least she did not know she vas doing it.” She looked around the end of the table at the others. “She could have slain us all in her anger. Nem, beansidhes are vell-nigh impossible to stop vwhen enraged. But she chose not to crush us vwhere ve stood--instead, she left.” 

At the mention of “banshee,” Dantae’s eyes widened, and she pulled at Dhampir’s sleeve to signal her to stop talking. 

While she had been speaking, Vex had clenched his jaw, whether from the lapse of protocol at constantly being interrupted or because he was trying to still the anger welling in him. He stood from his chair and turned his back to them, looking up at the large hand-painted map of Caledon which hung on the wall. “She’s very scared of her anger when it threatens to break her control over it. And yes, Lady Dantae, I know about her mother’s Beansidhe lineage and that Aeval-Leigh inherited much of it. I also know her father was a Cait Sidhe or daemonic Felidaen or the like.” He turned back around, forcing a slight smile. “The feline ears and tail are hard not to detect, even under the hats and massive skirts of Caledonian high society--especially now that we’re married.” 

He dropped roughly back into the chair and rubbed his face glumly with his hands. “Now it makes sense. If she stayed, she ran the risk of becoming destructive. Lady Dhampir, for a friend, you found the worst of her nerves to prick. Her greatest fear, or one of the greatest, is that she remains the Witch’s puppet and that her freedom has all been a lie.” 

Dhampir pushed away from the table and distanced herself, walking to the beveled window that looked over the Firth towards Speirling. The Everstorm’s lightning lit up her face from the distance as she propped her head against the glass. “Pokol, it has been our greatest fear, too.” Though she murmured the words, the group could still hear. “She vas always Aettrynne’s favorite--her ‘chosen’ or ‘first born’ if the VWitch ever found herself outmatched and killed. The manipulation that vent on--a human could not have turned from it.”

She glanced back over her shoulder at the group, before gazing back out the window. “Those of us around her have hidden our doubts that Aeval-Leigh vas able to. My ‘sisters’ are exchanging vworried faces right now, but they know I speak the truth for all of us. Ve share a genuine fear that she carries vwithin her a secret timepiece, ticking down and one day, she’ll turn into vwhat Aettrynne envisioned as her destiny.” 

Vex narrowed his eyes. “So why did you all follow her?” 

Dhampir shrugged and returned to the table. “There are times that taking a chance on a possible threat in order to have the hope of freedom—” she paused, seeming to weigh her words, “—is better than facing a sure life sentence--or death sentence--in bondage. Plus, vwhatever danger she might have posed to us, Aeval-Leigh is still our sister.” 

Neraida grumbled, still standing with her arms crossed, leaning with her back against the wall. “You should’ve thought about that and bitten your tongue before chasing her away.” 

“And, kölyök, unless they are useful in finding her and bringing her back, you should keep your opinions to yourself, nem.” Dhampir grimaced towards the nymph, speaking low but spitting out the words in a way that her canines showed. 

Dantae stood and pounded her hand against the table. “Enough you two! Bickering, infighting and pointing fingers will not tell us where Aeval-Leigh is, nor how to coax her into coming back!” 

“You don’t have to.” A voice weakly answered from across the room--the form had arrived unnoticed by those at the table. 

The gathered turned to see Aeval-Leigh, almost unrecognizable. Her drenched hair clung lifelessly to her now gaunt, sunken cheeks. Even though her body was soaked, her lips looked parched and colorless. She had the appearance of someone who had been starved for months. It was only when she collapsed into a pile on the stone floor that the shock wore off and the group moved to help her, led by Vex. 

“Aev!” His voice betrayed his heartbreak of believing he may have witnessed his new wife breathe her last in front of him. Seeming to ignore his own safety, he leapt onto the table and charged forward, dropping onto the stone floor at her side. Pulling her to him as the others huddled around, he brushed her hair from her face. 

Her eyes were open but almost lifeless and seemed to stare through him. 

“Aeval-Leigh, don’t leave me. Tell me what happened.” He snapped an order towards the Admiral. “Send an officer up to the hospital in Cape Wrath and order them to be ready! I don’t care who else is there--they drop everything once we arrive!” 

With a quick “Aye!”, the Admiral was gone. 

Dhampir whispered near Vex’s ear while leaning over and delicately massaging Aeval-Leigh’s forehead. “Human doctors vill not vork. Ve must take her.” 

Vex hissed at the raven-haired woman bending over him with unexpected venom. “Get your hands off of her, you harpie!” Wide-eyed, Dhampir took a step back as he spit his words, “You’ve always been jealous of her--tried to get rid of her--I’d welcome the Witch into my Court before I’ll let you take my wife anywhere!” 

Aeval-Leigh moaned in his arms and his attention and demeanor shifted again. For a moment, it was as if no one else was in the room. Her eyes adjusted and focused weakly on his and he heard her voice in his mind though her lips never moved. “Lay me in Speirling waters.” 

Vex groaned mournfully, believing that he was receiving her burial wishes, but Neraida and Dantae had also picked up on the psychic message. 

Neraida placed her hand on the Duke’s shoulder. “She’s telling us how to heal her, your Grace,” she whispered. “We don’t know how or why, but she’s uniquely connected to Speirling.” 

There was still doubt as he scarcely looked up, then looked back down at his dying wife, torn and unsure of what to do. Dantae added, “Duke--Vex--We must work quickly before she’s too far gone.” By design, she used her elemental inflection, and it realized its desired effect. The emotional Duke heaved a ragged sigh and nodded--a sign that he’d agreed to let her sisters help his wife.

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