Lord of the Night Realm: Book II - Reunion

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Summary

[Spoilers for Book I] With Isadore Renard’s scheme put into motion, Ellie finds herself back in the Prime Realm with no recollection of her time away from home. But just as she begins assimilating back into normal life, Solarists execute a plan that involves her in an insidious way. What fate lies in store for Ellie and those she loves at the hand of her forgotten lover’s nemesis?

Genre:
Fantasy / Romance
Author:
sennabyrd
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
3
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 31

The streets of Phiana—capital of the Theocracy of Galviece—bustled with the travel of residents and visitors alike as they charged the city with anticipation for the rapidly approaching festival. It was a celebration to honor the Joining; the union of the once-separated Shards—floating worlds that shared one sky in the seeming endless Sea of Clouds. Phiana’s celebration was among the greatest that the continent offered, and as such, brought in people from nations whose borders were distant.

Though the city itself and the main highway were alive with chatter and laughter, country roads that branched just far enough away received only a hint of Phiana’s brimming excitement. Slow and peaceful, as it was most days, with the exception of farmers and orchardists who rushed to fulfill orders placed by those operating eateries and food stalls at the upcoming festival.

Caught up in the modest bustle of the countryside was the Martel household, for Vena Martel herself was an apothecary who specialized in treatments for sicknesses, wounds, and other ailments common among adventurers. As was typical during the festival, many had arrived from far and wide and had inadvertently spread minor colds and a flu, resulting in higher foot traffic through Vena’s lovely, flower-hugged walkway from the front gate to her workshop. But the surplus of customers was not unexpected, as it was always as such during that time of the year.

The house proper was rather peaceful in contrast. While her youngest daughter, Lillian, assisted her with concoctions, Irwin—Vena’s son—enjoyed the pleasant summer breeze dancing lightly through the windows as he busied himself brewing tea for he and his father. The past few days had been a blessing, with several late night storms carrying into morning and nourishing the garden while reasonably quelling the heat. It was perfect weather for the festival, assuming the storms themselves had long since passed.

The kettle whistled on the stove, summoning the fifteen-year-old boy away from his book at the dinner table. Irwin mentally measured the water perfectly as he poured it into two ceramic cups and began steeping the tea. Eagerly, he started up the stairs with tray in hand and carefully pushed into his sisters’ bedroom with his shoulder.

Sunlight peered through the gap in the curtain, slightly illuminating the otherwise dim room. Irwin smiled at the sight of his father, Bram, hunched over and fast asleep in his chair between the window and the foot of the far bed. The frail man had barely a wink of sleep the past few days, despite knowing the risks with his weak constitution. But Bram was stubborn and refused to leave the bedside more than a couple of hours at a time.

Irwin was only halfway across the room when something caught his attention from the corner of his eye. Sitting upright in bed and smiling weakly was Ellie. Not a word passed Irwin’s lips at the sight of his formerly comatose elder sister, for they had all clustered in his throat and competed against one another to escape first.

“Don’t suppose one of those cups is for me?” Ellie whispered, cautious not to wake Bram from his slumber. Despite her efforts, the battle in Irwin’s throat was concluded with a single word.

“Ellie!” Realizing a moment too late why his sister was so hushed, Irwin slapped one hand over his mouth and lost balance on the tray for a fraction of a second, in turn creating a racket that jolted their father awake in his seat.

“Confound it, Irwin,” he groaned, narrowing his eyes at his son as he rubbed the sleep from his face. “Your clumsiness lately is scaring me half to death. Hope you didn’t inherit that from me.”

Dad.”

The firm tone in his son’s voice directed Bram’s attention to the bed. It was a sight he could hardly believe; his beloved daughter sitting there, fully awake and stifling a chuckle at the racket.

“Ellie?” Bram extended his arm and slowly rose from his seat. “Are you really…?”

“Good morning.” She rubbed her neck. “Or is it afternoon?”

Bram lunged to his daughter as best his body could manage and pulled her into a tight embrace. Warm tears trailed between their cheeks as Ellie reached around her father and rubbed his back reassuringly. From where she’d rested her head on his shoulder, Ellie exchanged a relieved smiled with Irwin until the long moment had passed.

“I need to get Mum and Lillian.”

He set the tray down on the nearby dresser with a dull thud and jogged out of the bedroom. Now alone with his daughter, Bram’s sobs tamed to sniffles and he wiped away one of Ellie’s own tears that had spilled free.

“We thought we’d lost you,” he whispered. “While you were gone, and after you came back and wouldn’t wake.” He pulled away and slowly eased into a sit on the edge of the bed. “How do you feel?”

“Like I just slept under a bed of bricks for a whole week,” she snorted. “But otherwise, I’m feeling better every minute.”

“Well I see your humor’s no worse for wear.” He laughed and planted a small kiss on her forehead before touching his own to it. “My poor girl. Oh, but I’m so glad you’re all right.”

A few pairs of feet hustled across the downstairs and up the old staircase to the bedroom. Irwin stepped in first, but was pushed aside by Lillian as she leapt across her own bed to Ellie’s side. Then Vena entered the room and placed one hand on her son’s shoulder while hiding a silent gasp with the other. Her eyes were locked on her eldest daughter’s bright smile as she stepped across the room, fell to her knees, and embraced her.

“I have no words,” Vena whimpered. “How—how are you feeling?”

“I’m all right, Mum.”

“Triad be praised,” Irwin sighed. “I was worried you might not recognize us.”

“Trust me, I do. All of you. Though my head does feel like its trapped in a huge fog.”

“Would a little more light help?” Bram asked.

Ellie had only just given a nod when Lillian swept to the window and pulled open the curtains. But the pleasant warmth Ellie expected was instead a creeping pain that coursed from one end of her body to the other. It was brief, though intense enough that it forced her to recoil with a pained squeak.

The unexpected reaction startled her family—Lillian most of all, who panicked and thrust the curtain shut. “I’m so sorry, was that too much?”

“No, no.” Ellie held her head as the pain slowly dissipated and left her now yearning for the sunlight. “I just didn’t expect it to be so bright. Please, open it back up.”

“Well, it is high noon, and on a beautiful day at that,” Vena said, and began stroking her daughter’s hair soothingly as the light gradually poured back into the room.

Ellie’s reaction to the sunlight shocked everyone, but especially herself. There were far too many mornings where she and Lillian slept in too late and were greeted by their mother abruptly opening the curtains, yet not a single time did the flood of light cause her pain. But whatever had prompted such a visceral response had now gone, leaving only the all-too-familiar strain of eyes adjusting to light.

“How long’ve I been asleep?” Given how she felt, Ellie nearly dreaded the answer.

“A couple of days, shortly after you came back,” Irwin replied. “You were in the yard and we came up to you, then you fainted.”

Only a couple of days? It seemed unreal, and yet Ellie had no reason to believe her family would lie about it. But she felt as though she had been sleeping for months. Ellie squinted at her blanketed lap and tried desperately to recall anything prior to waking, but anything beyond the argument with her mother was nothing more than dense fog. After searching aimlessly through the haze, Ellie managed to remember staggering through the woods and feeling violently ill.

“I do remember standing in the yard, yes.”

The room was silent—not at all the reaction Ellie expected for a trace of memory. Vena slipped her hand into her daughter’s and gently rubbed it with her thumb.

“Do you remember anything else?” Her voice was cautious as she tilted slightly to look her daughter in the eyes. Ellie spent a long moment in deep thought before merely shaking her head. “Nothing? Not where you’ve been, or—” Vena glanced at the spot just below her daughter’s neck that was carefully covered by her nightgown. “—or what happened to you?”

Outside could be heard a soft breeze, chirping birds, and a few patient adventurers carrying a conversation just beside the front gate. But all was quiet in the bedroom itself as Ellie delved desperately into the fog overtaking her recent memory.

“Nothing. There’s nothing there.”

“Well, what’s the last thing you remember?” Bram asked. “Before the yard, that is.”

“I remember having dinner and storming outside after—” Ellie averted her eyes from her mother’s. “—after our argument. I sat on the bench, and then there’s nothing. Just a blank, until finally I remember the woods and the bramble scratching up my hands.”

Vena delicately traced the recovering scratches on her daughter’s hands, the mystery of where they’d come from now solved. “There has to be something, Ellie. You were gone for about a week. If you’d just collapsed in the woods, we’d have found you within the first few—”

“—What did you say?” Ellie furrowed her brow. “I was gone for a week?”

“Give or take a day, yes.”

“That’s impossible. I was definitely gone longer than that.”

The way her family stared at her clearly spelled how preposterous Ellie sounded, and yet she stood by her notion.

“Did you remember something?” Bram waited for a reply, until slumping his shoulder when none came. “Believe us, we know how long you were gone. Each day was an unforgettable nightmare.”

“It’s true,” Lillian added. “They’re still setting up for the festival.”

“But the gap is so much larger than that!”

Ellie’s outburst ordered the room into silence. Everyone, including herself, was starting to wonder if she was perhaps not as well as they’d hoped.

“What do you mean?” Irwin finally asked.

Ellie’s response came instantly. “I don’t know. But something doesn’t feel right. It couldn’t have been just a week.” She snatched her hand from her mother’s and used it to illustrate her points. “It’s like I can see the gap where I have no memory, and a week would only be this big.” Ellie parted her hands far enough to touch the tips of her thumbs together, then to the width of her bed. “But the gap is this large. I can actually feel it in my memory, and to say that the whole thing fits into one week is just… outrageous.”

“I wish I knew what to say,” Bram sighed. “It was definitely about nine days ago that you disappeared.”

“Maybe I’m still tired,” Ellie groaned, then leaned back on her elbows. But while pondering the past week, a realization forced her back upright and she stared wide-eyed at Irwin. “I missed your exams!”

“Don’t worry, I passed,” he chuckled. “As if there were any doubt.”

“I knew you would, but I still promised to help you study and didn’t, so I’m sorry.”

“Ellie, really, it’s fine. It was hard to focus with you missing, of course, but I managed.”

“Don’t fret so much, Ellie,” Vena smiled. “We’re just happy that you’re home and safe. I just wish you could remember what happened.” An idea perked her brow and she turned to Lillian. “Maybe that might help?”

Lillian followed her mother’s finger toward the desk and fetched from it a soft, neatly folded emerald-colored cloak. Ellie’s hands trembled as she lifted it from her sister’s palms.

“Does this look familiar?” Vena asked. “Not summer attire by any means, but you were wearing it when we found you.”

“It’s almost fit for royalty,” Bram said. “I doubt even your grandparents could afford something like that.”

Vena chuckled. “Definitely not. It looks vintage, so I’d hoped my mother might’ve know something about it, but there’s no label. Specially made, maybe?”

Small, muffled whimpers escaped the folded cloak as Ellie pressed it against her face and struggled terribly to make clear the first and only image to show through the fog. Too much was still unclear beyond the cloak itself, as though she were viewing the memory through obscured glass. Who was holding it out to her? Were those distant, unintelligible whispers from them? What place was she standing in? But before Ellie could even hope to grasp the memory, it was gone.

“I don’t know,” she cried. “I can’t remember.”

“I’m sorry, Ellie.” Vena reached to reclaim the cloak, but retracted her hand when Ellie shook her head and held it securely in her lap.

“No, let me keep it. I don’t know where it came from, but I just want it close.”

“Of course.” Vena briefly took Lillian’s hand and smiled faintly to her and Irwin. “Could I ask you two to run to the neighbors and let them know Ellie’s awake? And let the adventurers know I’ll be with them again shortly, if they’ve the time to wait.”

With a small nod, Irwin and Lillian departed from the sun-soaked bedroom and left their sister and parents alone with each other. Vena knelt to the floor again and Bram scooted closer as the pair watched Ellie gaze upon the elegant cloak.

“Ellie,” her father muttered. “You really remember nothing? Not the good, nor the bad?”

“The bad?” she repeated. “No, I really don’t remember a thing.”

Sheepishly, Vena reached for the unbuttoned collar of her daughter’s nightgown and pulled it aside to bare her shoulder. “Not even how you got this?”

Positioned above Ellie’s right breast was a vile wound like a dark pit sinking into her torso with a tar-like blob that reached out from within in stringy vines. Despite its grisly appearance, the wound gave her not an ounce of pain. Had her mother not drawn attention to it, Ellie wouldn’t have ever suspected it was there.

“Triad’s mercy, what is that?” Ellie nearly shrieked.

“We were hoping you might tell us,” Bram said, clasping his hand over his daughter’s in an attempt to calm her. “But it seems not.”

“A doctor looked you over while you were asleep, but he found no symptoms of poisoning and believed it to be caused by some sort of magic.” Vena lowered her other knee and sat on her legs. ”So he thought it best left to a wizard, but we haven’t had any luck tracking one down.”

“Which is surprising, considering that the festival is just a few days away,” her father added. “Usually we’ve seen a dozen or more by this time.”

“The festival!” The mere mention of the event pushed the putrid opening to the back of her mind. Ellie then shot up in bed, prompting both her parents to reach forward to preemptively stop her from trying anything drastic.

“Ellie, you shouldn’t go this year,” her mother said.

“But what about the graduation ceremony? That’s the first morning of the festival and both Irwin and I have to attend.”

“I know, but you were missing for a week and I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“We’re terrified you’ll overexert yourself,” Bram added.

“I feel fine, despite how… this looks.” Ellie frowned and gave an exasperated wave to the wound. “I’m just a bit tired.”

Vena and Bram’s eyes met in wordless discussion, but it didn’t matter to Ellie what they’d say. She’d already decided that she was going, even if it meant jumping into the neighbor’s cart that hauled fruit to the city.

Defeated, her mother sighed and played idly with Ellie’s fingertips. “You’re an adult and we can’t stop you, so I suppose there’s no issue if you’re feeling fine the day of.”

“Perfect,” Ellie smirked. “What’s today, Monday?” Her parents nodded. “So, Wednesday is the ceremony and Thursday is the banquet. That means I better get plenty of rest today and tomorrow so that I’m right as rain for a busy few days.”

“Banquet?” Vena scratched her brow. “Gods, I completely forgot you were invited to that.”

“That’s a pretty big deal, so it’d be a shame for you to miss it,” her father grinned. “As it is, we won’t get to see the delegates arrive tomorrow evening. I heard they’re arriving on a special, magically-powered airship that can withstand the turbulent winds of the Sea of Clouds.”

“Oh? And I heard that the airship is massive in scale, so we might even catch a glimpse of it all the way out here,” her mother said.

“Who knows, maybe I’ll see it docked in the distance when I’m at the banquet hall in a few days after I’ve fully recovered.” Ellie gave a sly wink, her determination rousing laughter from her parents.

“Oh, to see you like this again is like a dream after so many fretful days.” Bram reached in to kiss his daughter’s hand.

“I’m glad you’re already acting like your old self.” Vena touched her forehead to Ellie’s.

“I told you; I’m already feeling better, and I wouldn’t lie about that.”

“Ah, but you might.” Her father wagged his finger. “If the lie was harmless and it got you something you really had your heart set on. Remember when you wanted to go picking at the orchard, but I said only if your marks were good so you forged a digit on the slip in the post?”

“That was just once! And I was only nine years old, thank you very much.” Ellie scoffed. “I swear upon the bubble blower on the mantle that I’m telling the truth.”

“The bubble blower?” Vena cackled. “Now I definitely believe you.”

After their laughter calmed, Ellie and her parents held each other for a good, long while. What was a fog to her had been a week of misery for her family that they were none too glad to be rid of. Every word, every hug, was a priceless gift they’d now come to appreciate tenfold.

“We’re so glad you’re home,” Bram muttered.

Vena smiled affectionately, then she and her husband pulled away from their daughter and rose to a stand. “We’ll let you rest now, but please call for us if you need anything at all. It’s busy out there, but there will always be someone in the house.”

“Maybe you’d like some fresh tea?” Bram motioned to the tray on the dresser. “I think the cups that Irwin made have steeped a bit too long.”

“I’m fine for now,” Ellie smiled. “But thank you.”

Vena fetched the tray and followed Bram into the hall, but not before giving her daughter one last smile before closing the door. Now alone, Ellie heaved a deep sigh and appreciated every detail of her bedroom as though it were her first time seeing it in years. Finally, her eyes fell to the cloak on her lap, a garment unlike anything she had ever owned. Its emerald sheen rippled beneath her touch, nearly giving Ellie a sense of intimacy.

And yet still it struck no memory.

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