Chapter IV.5 - April Fool's Day Entry
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Maenthrai ran through the labyrinthine streets of the central district, drawing farther ahead of Hildger and Wynnol with every turn as she used telekinesis to propel her steps to superhuman speeds. She spared a moment for petty satisfaction; hopefully, by the time she reached the Hestumarch, Wynnol would be too out of breath to mouth off.
The vault of the Hestumarch came into view long before Maenthrai arrived at its entranceway. Built using technology long lost to the world, it was the crowning achievement of a people known for their engineering genius, soaring hundreds of feet into the air and covering enough ground to hold a thousand times as many people as Maenthrai had brought to the forgotten city. Maenthrai tried to imagine the building in its heyday, packed and bustling with people as they used it as a transportation hub, market, and gathering ground.
She slowed to a walk as she ascended the wide, gracious steps leading up to the arched entranceway. Her steps echoed against marble and stone as she made her way to the centre of the building.
It looked as if everyone was present: Thaellon and his students, Maenthrai’s oracles, Serranos and his men. Maenthrai straightened under the attention, donning her role as head oracle. Whatever mistakes she had made, now was the time to act.
Maenthrai approached Thaellon as he directed his Azhemyra in last-minute preparations. The Nesharite Spheres glowed beside him, swirling with magickal energies that drew the eye.
“Are you ready? Where are Hildger and Wynnol?” Thaellon asked. He turned and directed the placement of some mechanical device Maenthrai did not recognize.
“They’re coming. They said that the Spheres will work without any ritual preparations.”
“That is correct. The set-up will be complete in approximately twenty minutes.” Thaellon’s gaze was directed at his students as he gestured to direct their actions.
Maenthrai retreated to where Serranos stood, out of the way of the Azhemyra. Her brother was unarmoured today, dressed in dark cloth robes, but he was never defenceless; peeking out at the collar of his robes was the matte black of the magickal jumpsuit he wore to enhance his physical abilities, and the blue runes etched beside his right eye were a visible reminder of the many augmentations he had put himself through.
Maenthrai forced herself into a cheer she did not feel, donning the mask she wore to reassure her younger brother that all was right in the world, even when it clearly was not. “How goes it, Serranos?”
“Maenthrai. Are you ready?” Serranos looked her up and down, making it clear with his expression that her attire was not at all what was expected of someone about to undertake a divination ritual.
“Don’t worry, brother. The Azhemyra have discovered a way to enhance the Nesharite Spheres so that the oracle does not affect their functioning.”
At that moment, Hildger and Wynnol burst into the Hestumarch, red-faced and panting. They were dragged into the ongoing preparations before Wynnol had a chance to stir up more trouble.
“What happened to them?” Serranos asked with a raised eyebrow.
“We got into a bit of a race on the way here.” Maenthrai channelled the small amount of amusement she felt and let out a wicked grin, inviting her brother to join in on the fun of the moment.
“Rather unfair to those who have to rely only on their muscles to run,” Serranos commented, the slightest of upward quirks to his lips.
“I didn’t start the race, I just won it.”
They lapsed into silence, watching the Azhemyra hurry back and forth with their implements. Maenthrai took the moment to clear her mind, breathing slow and rhythmic, doing what she could to ready herself without the hours of ritual cleansing she normally undertook.
At last, “It is ready,” Thaellon announced. His students backed away from the Nesharite Spheres, clearing the way for her approach.
Maenthrai walked up to the first of the Spheres, placing her hands on its smooth, blue surface. She ignored the gazes upon her, mind focused only on the task she had been working towards for years. She would finally know what had happened to turn her mother into an undead monster. Inhaling deeply, she sent her spirit out through the Nesharite Sphere and into the world of vision.
Hello? Who is this?
Maenthrai failed to answer the question, content to observe the past and learn what she would.
“Ma-en-thrai. Do I know you?”
Maenthrai was shocked to hear herself addressed, her name pronounced so strangely. “Hello?” she called out tentatively.
An image appeared before her, that of a woman with features that did not match any of the races Maenthrai was familiar with. The stranger’s ears were pointed and her eyes and hair the darkest purple. Dressed in leather armour, she looked deadly and fearless and absolutely foreign. “Who are you?” Maenthrai asked.
The stranger raised an eyebrow. “Who am I? You’re the one who called me. Who are you?”
Too stunned by the turn of events to come up with a coherent answer, Maenthrai was left floundering in silence until a squeak distracted her.
A small, purple creature hopped up the stranger’s arm to sit on her shoulder, then squeaked some more.
The stranger sighed. “I suppose you’re right,” she said to the creature. Looking back at Maenthrai, she said, “I am Fey E’lan, level 35 moon elf assassin. Who are you and why have you contacted me?”
“Contacted you? I’m supposed to be having a vision of the past!” Maenthrai’s bewilderment turned into anger. She was convinced that this creature had somehow corrupted her divination. “Get out, beast! I’ll not have you impeding the way!”
The Fey creature wore an offended, sardonic look. “This is what I get for answering unknown calls.” An eye roll, then, “Bye, then, weirdo.”
A puzzled frown. “I can’t close the chat. Hey, Leandriel, come look at this for me.”
A man entered the frame. He looked almost normal – except for the enormous white wings sprouting from his back. Just what realm had Maenthrai contacted?
He frowned. “May I look at your settings, Fey?” The frown grew more pronounced. “You should not have been able to receive a call from someone not on your friend list. As well, the option to end the call is missing. Are you able to log out?”
Maenthrai was not accustomed to being ignored. “Begone, creatures!”
“I can’t log out!” The creature named Fey was beginning to look upset. “Leandriel, I have to be able to log out in six game hours, seven at the most.”
The winged man fixed a look upon Maenthrai, suspicion and anger growing on his features. His voice gained a lethal edge completely at odds with his earlier, gentle tone. “What have you done, Maenthrai? Who are you? I will report this to the developers immediately and have you banned from Fantasia.”
“I’ve done nothing!” Maenthrai yelled. “It is you who have corrupted my visions!”
The purple creature on Fey’s shoulder released an angry squeak. With the long, vine-like appendage extending from its head, it lashed out and wrapped itself around Maenthrai’s waist. This was her spectral form! She should not be able to be seized! Despite her fiercest struggles, the small creature managed to drag her through the vision.
Maenthrai blinked at the bright sunlight. She was in the idealization of a forest, with cool shade and sun-dappled clearings, towering trees and fragrant air.
“Oh hey, I can close it now. Thanks, Amethyst.” As the Fey creature spoke, the window Maenthrai had been dragged through disappeared.
Maenthrai’s gut turned icy with fear. Where was she, and was she stranded here? Steeling her expression, she commanded, “Send me back, demons.”
“Is she for real? Just who is this, Leandriel?”
Leandriel frowned, staring into space. “Apparently, her account was created the second Amethyst pulled her here. Something strange is going on. Her race is listed as ‘High Hoelathan’, which is not one of the options in Fantasia.”
Fey crossed her arms. “I think you’d better talk. Unless we can figure out what just happened, you’re going to be stuck in this game forever.”
“Game!? This is no game; this is a matter of life and death!” Fear and anger battled for dominance inside of Maenthrai, and she struggled to keep her emotions contained.
No response but a raised eyebrow. “Less raving, more explaining.”
Maenthrai let out a sigh of aggravation. Fine. Maybe an explanation would help this situation.
Fey and Leandriel listened to Maenthrai’s story with a mixture of confusion and almost-disbelief.
“Does this sound like a Fantasia quest line?” Fey asked.
“I do not claim to be familiar with all quests, but I think I would know about events this major. An undead boss like that could destroy a whole country. No, I do not think this is part of the game.” Leandriel wore a frown of concentration. “I think the best thing for everyone involved would be to get her back to where she came from.”
Finally! Maenthrai nodded eagerly and waited for the rest of the plan.
“…How do we do that?” Fey finally asked.
“I am unsure how she even arrived here. Perhaps Amethyst has some insight into the matter?”
Fey looked at the purple creature on her shoulder. “Yeah, Amethyst, how did you do that?”
The Amethyst creature squeaked, and Fey raised an eyebrow as if she understood what it was trying to communicate. “Try it.”
Without warning, Amethyst whipped its arm around Maenthrai’s waist again, launching her into the darkness between visions. Unlike before, she could only see the barest of windows into the strange world, maybe a finger’s width from where Amethyst’s appendage extended from that world to her vision-world.
The grip around Maenthrai’s waist loosened.
“Wait!” Fey called out, and Amethyst froze. “Leandriel, can she have one of your feathers?”
“…I have no major objections. Pull one out.”
“Oh, I’m sure we can find a loose one somewhere in there. Lemme see.”
A minute, then two, passed, and then a long, white feather passed through the tiny window between worlds. Maenthrai could just make out Fey’s fingertips. “Leandriel’s an angel, so his feathers have strong holy properties. I’m not sure if it’s the same in your world, but it should be help against any undead monsters.”
Hesitantly, Maenthrai grasped the feather. What did it mean to be given an object in vision? “Thank you,” she said.
“Good luck on your quest!”
Maenthrai was released and the window closed as soon as Amethyst’s arm retreated. Taking a shaky breath, she sent her spirit back into her body.
Maenthrai opened her eyes and found herself back in the Hestumarch, surrounded by the same people who had been there before she had touched the first Nesharite Sphere.
“Well, what did you see?” Thaellon asked.
“It didn’t work!” Maenthrai shouted. “I saw strange creatures not of this world! You Azhemyra, with your ‘streamlining’ and ‘improving’. I am going to go undertake my ritual preparations, and we will try it again.” With an angry growl, she pushed past the ring of onlookers and stalked back towards her quarters.
She was halfway there before she noticed the pure, white feather clenched in one hand.